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Full text of "The scarlet letter, a romance"

March 1, 1850. 



A LIST OP BOOKS 

RECENTLY PUBLISHED BY 

TICKNOR, REED, AND FIELDS 



XiOSTGFEZtlLOWS POEMS. 



THE SEASIDE AND THE FIRESIDE. Just is- 

sued. In one volume, Ifirno, price 75 cent3. 
II. 

EVANGELINE ; a Tale of Acadie. In one vol- 

iii.) , i6iiio, price 75 cents. 

III. 

VOICES OF THE NIGHT. A New Edition. In 

one voiuriip, 16mo, price 75 centp. 
IV. 

BALLADS and OTHER POEMS. A New Edition. 

l.i c >e voiume, 16mo, price 75 cents. 
v. 

SPANISH STUDENT. A Play in Three Acts. A 

New Edition. In one volume, 16mo, price 75 cents. 
VI. 

BELFRY OF BRUGES and OTHER POEMS. A 

Now Edition. In one volume, IGmo, price 75 cents. 
VII. 

MR. LONGFELLOW'S COMPLETE POETICAL 

Wouks. In two volumes, Himo, price S'2.00. This edition contains the six 
volumes mentioned above, and is the only complete collection in the 
maiket. 

VIII. 

THE WAIF. A Collection of Poems. Edited by 

Longfellow. A Xcw Edition. J/i ono voluru;:, kiino, price 75 cents. 
IX. 

THE ESTRAY. A Collection of Poems. Edited 

by LovfiFELi.ow. In one volume, J Onto, price 75 cents. 



A LIST OF BOOKS RECENTLY PUBLISHED 

LONGFELLOW'S PROSE WORKS, 



KAVANAGH. A Tale. Lately published. In one 

volume, 16mo, price 75 cents. 

II. 

OUTRE-MER. A Pilgrimage Beyond the Sea. A 

New Edition. In one volume, I6mo, price $1.00. 
in. 

HYPERION. A Romance. A New Edition. In one 

volume, 16mo, price $1.00. 



POETRY. 



OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES. Poems. In one 

volume, 16mo. New Edition, Enlarged. Just out. Price $1.00. 
u. 

CHARLES SPRAGUE. Poetical and Prose 

Writings. New and Revised Edition. With fine Portrait. In one 
volume, 16mo, price 75 cents. 

in. 

JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL. Complete Poet- 

ical Works. Revised, with Additions. In two volumes 16mo, price $1.50. 

IV. 

EPES SARGENT. Songs of the Sea, with 

Other Poems. In one volume, 16mo, price 50 cents. 
v. 

JOHN G. SAXE. Humorous and Satirical Poems. 

In one volume, Itimo, price 50 cents. 

VI. 

ROBERT BROWNING. Complete Poetical 

Works. In two volumes, 16mo, price $2.00. 

VII. 

ALFRED TENNYSON. Poems. A New Edition, 

Enlarged, with Portrait. In two volumes, ltimo, price $1.50. 
vm. 

ALFRED TENNYSON. The Princess. A Medley. 

Just out. In one volume, 16mo, price 50 cents. 

IX. 

WILLIAM MOTKERWELL. " Poems, Narrative 

and Lyrical. A New Edition, Enlarged. In one volume, 16mo, price 
75 cents. 

x. 

WILLIAM MOTHERWELL. Minstrelsy, An- 

cient and Modern. With an HISTORICAL INTRODUCTION and 
NOTES. In two volumes, 16mo, price $1.50. 

XI. 

RICHARD MONCKTON MILNES. Poems of 

Many Years. In one volume, ltimo, price 75 cents. 



BY TICKNOR, REED, AND FIELDS. 



LEIGH HUNT. Story of Rimini and Other Poems. 

In one volume, 16mo, price 50 cents. 
xm. 

REJECTED ADDRESSES. From the 19th London 

Edition. Carefully Revised. With an Original Preface and Notes. 
By Horace and James Smith. In one volume, 16mo, price 50 cents. 

XIV. 

BARRY CORNWALL. English Songs and other 

Small Poems. In one volume, lGmo, price 75 cents, 
xv. 

JOHN BOWRING. Matins and Vespers, with Hymns 

and Occasional Devotional Pieces. In one volume, 32mo, cloth, 
gilt edges, price 37 1-2 cents. 

BACH OP THE ABOVE POEMS AND PROSE WRITINGS, MAY BE HAD IN 
VARIOUS STYLES OP HANDSOME BINDING. 



MISCELLANEOUS. 



ALDERBROOK; A Collection of Fanny Forester's 

Village Sketches, Poems, etc. In two volumes, 12mo, with a fine 
l'ortiait of the Author. A New Edition, Enlarged. Just out. Price $1.75. 

ii. 

GREENWOOD LEAVES. A Collection of Grace 

Greenwood's Stories and Letters. In one volume, 12mo. Just pub- 
lished. Price $1.25. 

in. 

NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE. The Scarlet Let- 

ter. A Romance. In one volume, 16mo. 

IV. 

HORACE MANN. A Few Thoughts for a Young 

Man. In one volume, 16mo, price 25 cents. 
v. 

EDWIN P. WHIPPLE. Lectures on Subjects 

connected with Literature and Life. In one volume, 16mo. Just 
published. Price 63 cents. 

VI. 

JOHN G. WHITTIER. Old Portraits and Mod- 

ern Sketches. In one volume, 16mo. Just published. Price 75 cents. 

VII. 

JOHN G. WHITTIER. Margaret Smith's Jour- 

nal. In one volume, lumo. Price 75 cents. 

VIII. 

HENRY GILES. Lectures, Essays, and Miscel- 
laneous writings. Two volumes, 16mo. Price $1.50. 

IX. 

THOMAS DE QUINCEY. Miscellaneous Wri- 

iings, including the "Confessions of an English Opium Eater," 
&c. &c. (In Press.) 



4 BOOKS PUBLISHED BY TICKNOR, REED, AND FIELDS. 

x. 

THE BOSTON BOOK for 1850. Being Specimens 

op Metropolitan Literature. In one volume, 12mo. Price $1.25. 

XI. 

CHARLES SUMNER. Orations and Public Ad- 

dresses. In two volumes, 12m o. (In Press.) 

XII. 

HEROINES OF THE MISSIONARY ENTER- 

prize. Being Memoirs of Distinguished American Female Mis- 
sionaries. In one volume, 16mo. 

XIII. 

F. W. P. GREENWOOD. Sermons of Consola- 

tion. A New Edition, on very fine paper and large type. In one vol- 
ume, 16mo, price $1.00. 

xiv. 

CHARACTERISTICS OF WOMEN : Moral, Poet- 

ical and Historical. By Mrs. Jameson. New Edition, Corrected and 
Enlarged. In one volume, 12mo, price $1.00. 

xv. 

BEN PERLEY POORE. The Rise and Fall of 

Louis Philippe, with Pen and Pencil Sketches of his Friends and his 
Successors. Portraits. $1.00. 

XVI. 

ANGEL-VOICES ; or Words of Counsel for Over- 
coming the World. In one volume, lBmo. A New Edition, Enlarged. 
Price 38 cents. 

XVII. 

THE CONSTITUTION OF MAN ; Considered in 

Relation to External Objects. By George Combe. With an Additional 
Chapter, on the HARMONY BETWEEN PHRENOLOGY AND REV- 
ELATION. By J. A. Warne, A. M. Twenty-seventh American Edi- 
tion. In one volume, 12mo, price 75 cents. 

XVIII. 

A PRACTICAL TREATISE on THE CULTIVA- 
TION OF THE GRAPE VINE ON OPEN WALLS. To which is 
added, a Descriptive Account of an Improved Method of Planting and 
Managing the Roots of Grape Vines. With Plates. In one volume, 
12mo, price 62 1-2 cents. 

XIX. 

ORTHOPHONY; Or the Culture of the Voice in 

Elocution. A Manual of Elementary' Exercises, adapted to Dr. Rush's 
'^PHILOSOPHY OF THE HUMAN VOICE," and the System of Vocal 
Culture introduced by Mr. James E. Murdoch. Designed as an Intro- 
duction to Kussell's "AMERICAN ELOCUTIONIST." Compiled by 
William Russell, Author of « Lessons in Enunciation," etc. With a 
Supplement on Purity op Tone, by G. J. Webb, Professor, Boston Acad- 
emy of Music. Improved Edition. One volume, 12mo, price 621-2 cents. 

MRS. PUTNAM'S RECEIPT BOOK; and Young 

Housekeeper's Assistant. A New and Enlarged Edition. In one vol- 
ume, 16mo, price 50 cunts. 

xxr. 

LIGHTS AND SHADOWS OF DOMESTIC LIFE. 

In one volume, 16mo. 



THE 



SCARLET LETTER, 



A ROMANCE. 



BY 



NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE. 



BOSTON: 



Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1850, by 
Nathaniel Hawthorne, 
the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts. 



CAMBRIDGE: 
METCALF AND COMPANY, 

PRINTERS TO THE UNIVERSITY. 



CONTENTS. 






PAGE 

The Custom-House. — Introductory 1 



I. — The Prison-Door .... 55 

II. — The Market-Place 58 

III. — The Recognition . . . . 71 

IV. — The Interview 83 

V. — Hester at her Needle . . . 99P- 

VI. — Pearl 105 

VII. — The Governor's Hall . . . 118 

VIII. — The Elf-Child and the Minister . . 128 

IX. — The Leech 140 

X. — The Leech and his Patient . . . 154 

XL — The Interior of a Heart . . . 167 

XII. — The Minister's Vigil . . . .177 

XIII. — Another View of Hester . . , 192 

XIV. — Hester and the Physician . , . 203 
XV. — Hester and Pearl .... 212 

XVI. — A Forest Walk 221 

XVII. — The Pastor and his Parishioner . 230 



IV CONTENTS. 

XVIIL — A Flood of Sunshine . . . .243 

XIX. — The Child at the Brook-side . . 251 

XX. — The Minister in a Maze . . .261 

XXL — The New England Holiday . . 276 

XXII. — The Procession 288 

XXIII. — The Revelation of the Scarlet Letter 302 

XXIV. — Conclusion 314 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE 



INTRODUCTORY TO " THE SCARLET LETTER." 



It is a little remarkable, that — though disinclined to 
talk overmuch of myself and my affairs at the fireside, 
and to my personal friends — an autobiographical im- 
pulse should twice in my life have taken possession of 
me, in addressing the public. The first time was three 
or four years since, when I favored the reader — in- 
excusably, and for no earthly reason, that either the in- 
dulgent reader or the intrusive author could imagine — 
with a description of my way of life in the deep qui- 
etude of an Old Manse. And now — because, beyond 
my deserts, I was happy enough to find a listener or 
two on the former occasion — I again seize the public 
by the button, and talk of my three years' experience 
in a Custom-House. The example of the famous " P. 
P., Clerk of this Parish," was never more faithfully 
followed. The truth seems to be, however, that, when 
1 



xJ THE SCARLET LETTER. 

he casts his leaves forth upon the wind, the author 
addresses, not the many who will fling aside his vol- 
ume, or never take it up, but the few who will under- 
stand him, better than most of his schoolmates and life- 
mates. Some authors, indeed, do far more than this, 
and indulge themselves in such confidential depths of 
revelation as could fittingly be addressed, only and ex- 
clusively, to the one heart and mind of perfect sympa- 
thy ; as if the printed book, thrown at large on the wide 
world, were certain to find out the divided segment of 
the writer's own nature, and complete his circle of ex- 
istence by bringing him into communion with it. It is 
scarcely decorous, however, to speak all, even where 
we speak impersonally. But — as thoughts are frozen 
and utterance benumbed, unless the speaker stand in 
some true relation with his audience — it may be par- 
donable to imagine that a friend, a kind and apprehen- 
sive, though not the closest friend, is listening to our 
talk; and then, a native reserve being thawed by this 
genial consciousness, we may prate of the circum- 
stances that lie around us, and even of ourself, but still 
keep the inmost Me behind its veil. To this extent 
and within these limits, an author, methinks, may be 
autobiographical, without violating either the reader's 
rights or his own. 

It will be seen, likewise, that this Custom-House 
sketch has a certain propriety, of a kind always recog- 
nized in literature, as explaining how a large portion of 
the following pages came into my possession, and as 
offering proofs of the authenticity of a narrative therein 
contained. This, in fact, — a desire to put myself in 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 3 

my true position as editor, or very little more, of the 
most prolix among the tales that make up my volume, 
— this, and no other, is my true reason for assuming a 
personal relation with the public. In accomplishing 
the main purpose, it has appeared allowable, by a few 
extra touches, to give a faint representation of a mode 
of life not heretofore described, together with some of 
the characters that move in it, among whom the author 
happened to make one. 

In my native town of Salem, at the head of what, 
half a century ago, in the days of old King Derby, was 
a bustling wharf, — but which is now burdened with 
decayed wooden warehouses, and exhibits few or no 
symptoms of Commercial life ; except, perhaps, a bark 
or brig, half-way down its melancholy length, discharg- 
ing hides ; or, nearer at hand, a Nova Scotia schooner, 
pitching out her cargo of firewood, — at the head, I 
say, of this dilapidated wharf, which the tide often 
overflows, and along which, at the base and in the rear 
of the row of buildings, the track of many languid 
years is seen in a border of unthrifty grass, — here, 
with a view from its front windows adown this not very 
enlivening prospect, and thence across the harbour, 
stands a spacious edifice of brick. From the loftiest 
point of its roof, during precisely three and a half hours 
of each forenoon, floats or droops, in breeze or calm, 
the banner of the republic ; but with the thirteen stripes 
turned vertically, instead of horizontally, and thus in- 
dicating that a civil, and not a military post of Uncle 
Sam's government, is here established. Its front is or- 



4 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

namented with a portico of half a dozen wooden pillars, 
supporting a balcony, beneath which a flight of wide 
granite steps descends towards the street. Over the 
entrance hovers an enormous specimen of the Ameri- 
can eagle, with outspread wings, a shield before her 
breast, and, if I recollect aright, a bunch of intermin- 
gled thunderbolts and barbed arrows in each claw. 
With the customary infirmity of temper that character- 
izes this unhappy fowl, she appears, by the fierceness 
of her beak and eye and the general truculency of her 
attitude, to threaten mischief to the inoffensive commu- 
nity ; and especially to warn all citizens, careful of 
their safety, against intruding on the premises which 
she overshadows with her wings. Nevertheless, vixen- 
ly as she looks, many people are seeking, at this very 
moment, to shelter themselves under the wing of the 
federal eagle ; imagining, I presume, that her bosom 
has all the softness and snugness of an eider-down 
pillow. But she has no great tenderness, even in 
her best of moods, and, sooner or later, — oftener soon 
than late, — is apt to fling off her nestlings with a 
scratch of her claw, a dab of her beak, or a rankling 
wound from her barbed arrows. 

The pavement round about the above-described edi- 
fice — which we may as well name at once as the 
Custom-House of the port — has grass enough growing 
in its chinks to show that it has not, of late days, been 
worn by any multitudinous resort of business. In some 
months of the year, however, there often chances a 
forenoon when affairs move onward with a livelier 
tread. Such occasions might remind the elderly citi- 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 5 

zen of that period, before the last war with England, 
when Salem was a port by itself; not scorned, as she 
is now, by her own merchants and ship-owners, who 
permit her wharves to crumble to ruin, while their 
ventures go to swell, needlessly and imperceptibly, the 
mighty flood of commerce at New York or Boston. 
On some such morning, when three or four vessels 
happen to have arrived at once, — usually from Africa 
or South America, — or to be on the verge of their 
departure thitherward, there is a sound of frequent 
feet, passing briskly up and down the granite steps. 
Here, before his own wife has greeted him, you may 
greet the sea-flushed ship-master, just in port, with his 
vessel's papers under his arm in a tarnished tin box. 
Here, too, comes his owner, cheerful or sombre, gra- 
cious or in the sulks, accordingly as his scheme of the 
now accomplished voyage has been realized in mer- 
chandise that will readily be turned to gold, or has 
buried him under a bulk of incommodities, such as no- 
body will care to rid him of. Here, likewise, — - the 
germ of the wrinkle-browed, grizzly-bearded, careworn 
merchant, — we have the smart young clerk, who gets 
the taste of traffic as a wolf-cub does of blood, and 
already sends adventures in his master's ships, when he 
had better be sailing mimic boats upon a mill-pond. 
Another figure in the scene is the outward-bound sailor, 
in quest of a protection ; or the recently arrived one, 
pale and feeble, seeking a passport to the hospital. 
Nor must we forget the captains of the rusty little 
schooners that bring firewood from the British prov- 
inces ; a rough-looking set of tarpaulins, without the 



6 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

alertness of the Yankee aspect, but contributing an item 
of no slight importance to our decaying trade. 

Cluster all these individuals together, as they some- 
times were, with other miscellaneous ones to diversify 
the group, and, for the time being, it made the Custom- 
House a stirring scene. More frequently, however, on 
ascending the steps, you would discern — in the entry, 
if it were summer time, or in their appropriate rooms, 
if wintry or inclement weather — a row of venerable 
figures, sitting in old-fashioned chairs, which were tip- 
ped on their hind legs back against the wall. Often- 
times they were asleep, but occasionally might be 
heard talking together, in voices between speech and a 
snore, and with that lack of energy that distinguishes 
the occupants of alms-houses, and all other human be- 
ings who depend for subsistence on charity, on monop- 
olized labor, or any thing else but their own independent 
exertions. These old gentlemen — seated, like Mat- 
thew, at the receipt of custom, but not very liable to be 
summoned thence, like him, for apostolic errands — 
were Custom-House officers. 

Furthermore, on the left hand as you enter the front 
door, is a certain room or office, about fifteen feet 
square, and of a lofty height ; with two of its arched 
windows commanding a view of the aforesaid dilapi- 
dated wharf, and the third looking across a narrow lane, 
and along a portion of Derby Street. All three give 
glimpses of the shops of grocers, block-makers, slop- 
sellers, and ship-chandlers ; around the doors of which 
are generally to be seen, laughing and gossiping, clus- 
ters of old salts, and such other wharf- rats as haunt the 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 7 

Wapping of a seaport. The room itself is cobwebbed, 
and dingy with old paint ; its floor is strewn with gray- 
sand, in a fashion that has elsewhere fallen into long 
disuse ; and it is easy to conclude, from the general 
slovenliness of the place, that this is a sanctuary into 
which womankind, with her tools of magic, the broom 
and mop, has very infrequent access. In the way of 
furniture, there is a stove with a voluminous funnel ; 
an old pine desk, with a three-legged stool beside it ; 
two or three wooden-bottom chairs, exceedingly de- 
crepit and infirm ; and, — not to forget the library, — 
on some shelves, a score or two of volumes of the Acts 
of Congress, and a bulky Digest of the Revenue Laws. 
A tin pipe ascends through the ceiling, and forms a 
medium of vocal communication with other parts of the 
edifice. And here, some six months ago, — pacing 
from corner to corner, or lounging on the long-legged 
stool, with his elbow on the desk, and his eyes wander- 
ing up and down the columns of the morning news- 
paper, — you might have recognized, honored reader, 
the same individual who welcomed you into his cheery 
little study, where the sunshine glimmered so pleasantly 
through the willow branches, on the western side of the 
Old Manse. But now, should you go thither to seek 
him, you would inquire in vain for the Loco-foco Sur- 
veyor. The besom of reform has swept him out of 
office ; and a worthier successor wears his dignity and 
pockets his emoluments. 

This old town of Salem — my native place, though 
I have dwelt much away from it, both in boyhood and 
maturer years — possesses, or did possess, a hold on 



8 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

my affections, the force of which I have never realized 
during my seasons of actual residence here. Indeed, 
so far as its physical aspect is concerned, with its flat, 
unvaried surface, covered chiefly with wooden houses, 
few or none of which pretend to architectural beauty, 
— its irregularity, which is neither picturesque nor 
quaint, but only tame, — its long and lazy street, loun- 
ging wearisomely through the whole extent of the pen- 
insula, with Gallows Hill and New Guinea at one end, 
and a view of the alms-house at the other, — such being 
the features of my native town, it would be quite as 
reasonable to form a sentimental attachment to a dis- 
arranged checkerboard. And yet, though invariably 
happiest elsewhere, there is within me a feeling for 
old Salem, which, in lack of a better phrase, I must be 
content to call affection. The sentiment is probably 
assignable to the deep and aged roots which my family 
has struck into the soil. It is now nearly two centuries 
and a quarter since the original Briton, the earliest 
emigrant of my name, made his appearance in the wild 
and forest- bordered settlement, which has since become 
a city. And here his descendants have been born and 
died, and have mingled their earthy substance with the 
soil ; until no small portion of it must necessarily be 
akin to the mortal frame wherewith, for a little while, 
I walk the streets. In part, therefore, the attachment 
which I speak of is the mere sensuous sympathy of 
dust for dust. Few of my countrymen can know what 
it is ; nor, as frequent transplantation is perhaps better 
for the stock, need they consider it desirable to know. 
But the sentiment has likewise its moral quality. The 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 9 



with a dim and dusky grandeur, was present to my 
boyish imagination, as far back as I can remember. 
It still haunts me, and induces a sort of home- 
feeling with the past, which I scarcely claim in refer- 
ence to the present phase of the town. I seem to 
have a stronger claim to a residence here on account 
of this grave, bearded, sable-cloaked, and steeple- 
crowned progenitor, — who came so early, with his 
Bible and his sword, and trode the unworn street with 
such a stately port, and made so large a figure, as a 
man of war and peace, — a stronger claim than for 
myself, whose name is seldom heard and my face 
hardly known. He was a soldier, legislator, judge ; 
he was a ruler in the Church ; he had all the Puritanic 
traits, both good and evil. He was likewise a bitter 
persecutor ; as witness the Quakers, who have remem- 
bered him in their histories, and relate an incident of 
his hard severity towards a woman of their sect, which 
will last longer, it is to be feared, than any record of 
his better deeds, although these were many. His son, 
too, inherited the persecuting spirit, and made himself 
so conspicuous in the martyrdom of the witches, that 
their blood may fairly be said to have left a stain upon 
him. So deep a stain, indeed, that his old dry bones, 
in the Charter Street burial-ground, must still retain it, 
if they have not crumbled utterly to dust ! I know not 
whether these ancestors of mine bethought themselves 
to repent, and ask pardon of Heaven for their cruelties ; 
or whether they are now groaning under the heavy 
consequences of them, in another state of being. At 



10 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

all events, I, the present writer, as their representative, 
hereby take shame upon myself for their sakes, and 
pray that any curse incurred by them — as I have 
heard, and as the dreary and unprosperous condition 
of the race, for many a long year back, would argue 
to exist — may be now and henceforth removed. 

Doubtless, however, either of these stern and black- 
browed Puritans would have thought it quite a suffi- 
cient retribution for his sins, that, after so long a lapse 
of years, the old trunk of the family tree, with so much 
venerable moss upon it, should have borne, as its top- 
most bough, an idler like myself. No aim, that I have 
ever cherished, would they recognize as laudable; no 
success of mine — if my life, beyond its domestic 
scope, had ever been brightened by success — would 
they deem otherwise than worthless, if not positively 
disgraceful. " What is he ? " murmurs one gray shad- 
ow of my forefathers to the other. " A writer of 
story-books ! What kind of a business in life, — what 
mode of glorifying God, or being serviceable to man- 
kind in his day and generation, — may that be ? Why, 
the degenerate fellow might as well have been a fid- 
dler ! " Such are the compliments bandied between my 
great-grandsires and myself, across the gulf of time ! 
And yet, let them scorn me as they will, strong traits 
of their nature have intertwined themselves with mine. 

Planted deep, in the town's earliest infancy and 
childhood, by these two earnest and energetic men, 
the race has ever since subsisted here ; always, too, 
in respectability ; never, so far as I have known, dis- 
graced by a single unworthy member ; but seldom or 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 11 

never, on the other hand, after the first two genera- 
tions, performing any memorable deed, or so much as 
putting forward a claim to public notice. Gradually, 
they have sunk almost out of sight; as old houses, 
here and there about the streets, get covered half-way 
to the eaves by the accumulation of new soil. From 
father to son, for above a hundred years, they fol- 
lowed the sea ; a gray-headed shipmaster, in each gen- 
eration, retiring from the quarter-deck to the home- 
stead, while a boy of fourteen took the hereditary place 
before the mast, confronting the salt spray and the 
gale, which had blustered against his sire and grand- 
sire. The boy, also, in due time, passed from the fore- 
castle to the cabin, spent a tempestuous manhood, and 
returned from his world- wanderings, to grow old, and 
die, and mingle his dust with the natal earth. This 
long connection of a family with one spot, as its place 
of birth and burial, creates a kindred between the human 
being and the locality, quite independent of any charm 
in the scenery or moral circumstances that surround 
him. It is not love, but instinct. The new inhabitant 
— who came himself from a foreign land, or whose 
father or grandfather came — has little claim to be 
called a Salemite ; he has no conception of the oyster- 
like tenacity with which an old settler, over whom his 
third century is creeping, clings to the spot where his 
successive generations have been imbedded. It is no 
matter that the place is joyless for him ; that he is 
weary of the old wooden houses, the mud and dust, the 
dead level of site and sentiment, the chill east wind, 
and the chillest of social atmospheres ; — all these, and 



12 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

whatever faults besides he may see or imagine, are 
nothing to the purpose. The spell survives, and just 
as powerfully as if the natal spot were an earthly 
paradise. So has it been in my case. I felt it almost 
as a destiny to make Salem my home ; so that the mould 
of features and cast of character which had all along 
been familiar here — ever, as one representative of the 
race lay down in his grave, another assuming, as it 
were, his sentry-march along the Main Street — might 
still in my little day be seen and recognized in the old 
town. Nevertheless, this very sentiment is an evidence 
that the connection, which has become an unhealthy 
one, should at last be severed. Human nature will 
not flourish, any more than a potato, if it be planted 
and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in 
the same worn-out soil. My children have had other 
birthplaces, and, so far as their fortunes may be within 
my control, shall strike their roots into unaccustomed 
earth. 

On emerging from the Old Manse, it was chiefly this 
strange, indolent, unjoyous attachment for my native 
town, that brought me to fill a place in Uncle Sam's 
brick edifice, when I might as well, or better, have 
gone somewhere else. My doom was on me. It was 
not the first time, nor the second, that I had gone away, 
— as it seemed, permanently, — but yet returned, like 
the bad half-penny ; or as if Salem were for me the 
inevitable centre of the universe. So, one fine morn- 
ing, I ascended the flight of granite steps, with the 
President's commission in my pocket, and was intro- 
duced to the corps of gentlemen who were to aid me 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 13 

in my weighty responsibility, as chief executive officer 
of the Custom-House. 

I doubt greatly — or rather, I do not doubt at all — 
whether any public functionary of the United States, 
either in the civil or military line, has ever had such a 
patriarchal body of veterans under his orders as my- 
self. The whereabouts of the Oldest Inhabitant was at 
once settled, when I looked at them. For upwards of 
twenty years before this epoch, the independent posi- 
tion of the Collector had kept the Salem Custom-House 
out of the whirlpool of political vicissitude, which 
makes the tenure of office generally so fragile. A 
soldier, — New England's most distinguished soldier, 
— he stood firmly on the pedestal of his gallant ser- 
vices ; and, himself secure in the wise liberality of the 
successive administrations through which he had held 
office, he had been the safety of his subordinates in 
many an hour of danger and heart-quake. General 
Miller was radically conservative ; a man over whose 
kindly nature habit had no slight influence ; attaching 
himself strongly to familiar faces, and with difficulty 
moved to change, even when change might have 
brought unquestionable improvement. Thus, on taking 
charge of my department, I found few but aged men. 
They were ancient sea-captains, for the most part, who, 
after being tost on every sea, and standing up sturdily 
against life's tempestuous blast, had finally drifted into 
this quiet nook; where, with little to disturb them, ex- 
cept the periodical terrors of a Presidential election, 
they one and all acquired a new lease of existence. 
Though by no means less liable than their fellow-men 



14 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

to age and infirmity, they had evidently some talisman 
or other that kept death at bay. Two or three of their 
number, as I was assured, being gouty and rheumatic, 
or perhaps bed-ridden, never dreamed of making their 
appearance at the Custom-House, during a large part 
of the year; but, after a torpid winter, would creep 
out into the warm sunshine of May or June, go lazily 
about what they termed duty, and, at their own leisure 
and convenience, betake themselves to bed again. I 
must plead guilty to the charge of abbreviating the 
official breath of more than one of these venerable 
servants of the republic. They were allowed, on my 
representation, to rest from their arduous labors, and 
soon afterwards — as if their sole principle of life had 
been zeal for their country's service ; as I verily be- 
lieve it was — withdrew to a better world. It is a pious 
consolation to me, that, through my interference, a 
sufficient space was allowed them for repentance of the 
evil and corrupt practices, into which, as a matter of 
course, every Custom-House officer must be supposed 
to fall. Neither the front nor the back entrance of the 
Custom-House opens on the road to Paradise. 

The greater part of my officers were Whigs. It was 
well for their venerable brotherhood, that the new Sur- 
veyor was not a politician, and, though a faithful Dem- 
ocrat in principle, neither received nor held his office 
with any reference to political services. Had it been 
otherwise, — had an active politician been put into this 
influential post, to assume the easy task of making 
head against a Whig Collector, whose infirmities with- 
held him from the personal administration of his office, 



THE CTJSTOM-HOUSE. 15 

— hardly a man of the old corps would have drawn 
the breath of official life, within a month after the ex- 
terminating angel had come up the Custom-House 
steps. According to the received code in such mat- 
ters, it would have been nothing short of duty, in a 
politician, to bring every one of those white heads 
under the axe of the guillotine. It was plain enough 
to discern, that the old fellows dreaded some such dis- 
courtesy at my hands. It pained, and at the same time 
amused me, to behold the terrors that attended my ad- 
vent ; to see a furrowed cheek, weather-beaten by half 
a century of storm, turn ashy pale at the glance of so 
harmless an individual as myself; to detect, as one or 
another addressed me, the tremor of a voice, which, in 
long-past days, had been wont to bellow through a 
speaking-trumpet, hoarsely enough to frighten Boreas 
himself to silence. They knew, these excellent old 
persons, that, by all established rule, — and, as regarded 
some of them, weighed by their own lack of efficiency 
for business, — they ought to have given place to 
younger men, more orthodox in politics, and altogether 
fitter than themselves to serve our common Uncle. I 
knew it too, but could never quite find in my heart to 
act upon the knowledge. Much and deservedly to my 
own discredit, therefore, and considerably to the detri- 
ment of my official conscience, they continued, during 
my incumbency, to creep about the wharves, and loiter 
up and down the Custom-House steps. They spent a 
good deal of time, also, asleep in their accustomed 
corners, with their chairs tilted back against the wall ; 
awaking, however, once or twice in a forenoon, to bore 



16 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

one another with the several thousandth repetition of 
old sea-stories, and mouldy jokes, that had grown to be 
pass-words and countersigns among them. 

The discovery was soon made, I imagine, that the 
new Surveyor had no great harm in him. So, with 
lightsome hearts, and the happy consciousness of being 
usefully employed, — in their own behalf, at least, if 
not for our beloved country, — these good old gentle- 
men went through the various formalities of office. 
Sagaciously, under their spectacles, did they peep into 
the holds of vessels ! Mighty was their fuss about little 
matters, and marvellous, sometimes, the obtuseness 
that allowed greater ones to slip between their fingers ! 
Whenever such a mischance occurred, — when a wag- 
on-load of valuable merchandise had been smuggled 
ashore, at noonday, perhaps, and directly beneath 
their unsuspicious noses, — nothing could exceed the 
vigilance and alacrity with which they proceeded to 
lock, and double-lock, and secure with tape and sealing- 
wax, all the avenues of the delinquent vessel. Instead 
of a reprimand for their previous negligence, the case 
seemed rather to require an eulogium on their praise- 
worthy caution, after the mischief had happened ; a 
grateful recognition of the promptitude of their zeal, 
the moment that there was no longer any remedy ! 

Unless people are more than commonly disagreea- 
ble, it is my foolish habit to contract a kindness for 
them. The better part of my companion's character, 
if it have a better part, is that which usually comes 
uppermost in my regard, and forms the type whereby 
I recognize the man. As most of these old Custom- 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 17 

House officers had good traits, and as my position in 
reference to them, being paternal and protective, was 
favorable to the growth of friendly sentiments, I soon 
grew to like them all. It was pleasant, in the summer 
forenoons, — when the fervent heat, that almost lique- 
fied the rest of the human family, merely communi- 
cated a genial warmth to their half-torpid systems, — it 
was pleasant to hear them chatting in the back entry, a 
row of them all tipped against the wall, as usual ; while 
the frozen witticisms of past generations were thawed 
out, and came bubbling with laughter from their lips. 
Externally, the jollity of aged men has much in com- 
mon with the mirth of children ; the intellect, any 
more than a deep sense of humor, has little to do with 
the matter ; it is r with both, a gleam that plays upon the 
surface, and imparts a sunny and cheery aspect alike 
to the green branch, and gray, mouldering trunk. In 
one case, however, it is real sunshine ; in the other, it 
more resembles the phosphorescent glow of decaying 
wood. 

It would be sad injustice, the reader must understand, 
to represent all my excellent old friends as in their 
dotage. In the first place, my coadjutors were not in- 
variably old ; there were men among them in their 
strength and prime, of marked ability and energy, and 
altogether superior to the sluggish and dependent mode 
of life on which their evil stars had cast them. Then, 
moreover, the white locks of age were sometimes found 
to be the thatch of an intellectual tenement in good 
repair. But, as respects the majority of my corps of 
veterans, there will be no wrong done, if I characterize 
2 



18 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

them generally as a set of wearisome old souls, who 
had gathered nothing worth preservation from their 
varied experience of life. They seemed to have flung 
away all the golden grain of practical wisdom, which 
they had enjoyed so many opportunities of harvesting, 
and most carefully to have stored their memories with 
the husks. They spoke with far more interest and 
unction of their morning's breakfast, or yesterday's, to- 
day's, or to-morrow's dinner, than of the shipwreck of 
forty or fifty years ago, and all the world's wonders 
which they had witnessed with their youthful eyes. 

The father of the Custom-House — the patriarch, 
not only of this little squad of officials, but, I am bold 
to say, of the respectable body of tide-waiters all over 
the United States — was a certain permanent Inspec- 
tor. He might truly be termed a legitimate son of the 
revenue system, dyed in the wool, or rather, born in 
the purple ; since his sire, a Revolutionary colonel, and 
formerly collector of the port, had created an office for 
him, and appointed him to fill it, at a period of the 
early ages which few living men can now remember. 
This Inspector, when I first knew him, was a man of 
fourscore years, or thereabouts, and certainly one of 
the most wonderful specimens of winter-green that 
you would be likely to discover in a lifetime's search. 
With his florid cheek, his compact figure, smartly 
arrayed in a bright-buttoned blue coat, his brisk and 
vigorous step, and his hale and hearty aspect, alto- 
gether, he seemed — not young, indeed — but a kind 
of new contrivance of Mother Nature in the shape of 
man, whom age and infirmity had no business to touch. 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 19 

His voice and laugh, which perpetually reechoed 
through the Custom-House, had nothing of the trem- 
ulous quaver and cackle of an old man's utterance ; 
they came strutting out of his lungs, like the crow of a 
cock, or the blast of a clarion. Looking at him merely 
as an animal, — and there was very little else to look 
at, — he was a most satisfactory object, from the 
thorough healthfullness and wholesomeness of his sys- 
tem, and his capacity, at that extreme age, to enjoy all, 
or nearly all, the delights which he had ever aimed at, 
or conceived of. The careless security of his life in 
the Custom-House, on a regular income, and with but 
slight and infrequent apprehensions of removal, had no 
doubt contributed to make time pass lightly over him. 
The original and more potent causes, however, lay in 
the rare perfection of his animal nature, the moderate 
proportion of intellect, and the very trifling admixture 
of moral and spiritual ingredients ; these latter qualities, 
indeed, being in barely enough measure to keep the 
old gentleman from walking on all-fours. He possessed 
no power of thought, no depth of feeling, no trouble- 
some sensibilities ; nothing, in short, but a few common- 
place instincts, which, aided by the cheerful temper 
that grew inevitably out of his physical well-being, did 
duty very respectably, and to general acceptance, in 
lieu of a heart. He had been the husband of three 
wives, all long since dead ; the father of twenty chil- 
dren, most of whom, at every age of childhood or ma- 
turity, had likewise returned to dust. Here, one would 
suppose, might have been sorrow enough to imbue the 
sunniest disposition, through and through, with a sable 



20 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

tinge. Not so with our old Inspector ! One brief sigh 
sufficed to carry off the entire burden of these dismal 
reminiscences. The next moment, he was as ready 
for sport as any unbreeched infant ; far readier than 
the Collector's junior clerk, who, at nineteen years, 
was much the elder and graver man of the two. 

I used to watch and study this patriarchal personage 
with, I think, livelier curiosity than any other form of 
humanity there presented to my notice. He was, in 
truth, a rare phenomenon ; so perfect in one point of 
view ; so shallow, so delusive, so impalpable, such an 
absolute nonentity, in every other. My conclusion was 
that he had no soul, no heart, no mind; nothing, as I 
have already said, but instincts ; and yet, withal, so 
cunningly had the few materials of his character been 
put together, that there was no painful perception of 
deficiency, but, on my part, an entire contentment with 
what I found in him. It might be difficult — and it 
was so — to conceive how he should exist hereafter, 
so earthy and sensuous did he seem ; but surely his 
existence here, admitting that it was to terminate with 
his last breath, had been not unkindly given ; with no 
higher moral responsibilities than the beasts of the field, 
but with a larger scope of enjoyment than theirs, and 
with all their blessed immunity from the dreariness and 
duskiness of age. 

One point, in which he had vastly the advantage over 
his four-footed brethren, was his ability to recollect the 
good dinners which it had made no small portion of the 
happiness of his life to eat. His gourmandism was a 
highly agreeable trait ; and to hear him talk of roast- 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 21 

meat was as appetizing as a pickle or an oyster. As 
he possessed no higher attribute, and neither sacrificed 
nor vitiated any spiritual endowment by devoting all 
his energies and ingenuities to subserve the delight and 
profit of his maw, it always pleased and satisfied me to 
hear him expatiate on fish, poultry, and butcher's meat, 
and the most eligible methods of preparing them for 
the table. His reminiscences of good cheer, however 
ancient the date of the actual banquet, seemed to bring 
the savor of pig or turkey under one's very nostrils. 
There were flavors on his palate, that had lingered 
there not less than sixty or seventy years, and were still 
apparently as fresh as that of the mutton-chop which 
he had just devoured for his breakfast. I have heard 
him smack his lips over dinners, every guest at which, 
except himself, had long been food for worms. It was 
marvellous to observe how the ghosts of bygone meals 
were continually rising up before him ; not in anger or 
retribution, but as if grateful for his former apprecia- 
tion, and seeking to reduplicate an endless series of 
enjoyment, at once shadowy and sensual. A tender- 
loin of beef, a hind-quarter of veal, a spare-rib of pork, 
a particular chicken, or a remarkably praiseworthy 
turkey, which had perhaps adorned his board in the 
days of the elder Adams, would be remembered ; while 
all the subsequent experience of our race, and all the 
events that brightened or darkened his individual career, 
had gone over him with as little permanent effect as 
the passing breeze. The chief tragic event of the old 
man's life, so far as I could judge, was his mishap 
with a certain goose, which lived and died some twenty 



22 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

or forty years ago ; a goose of most promising figure, 
but which, at table, proved so inveterately tough that 
the carving-knife would make no impression on its 
carcass ; and it could only be divided with an axe and 
handsaw. 

But it is time to quit this sketch ; on which, however, 
I should be glad to dwell at, considerably more length, 
because, of all men whom I have ever known, this in- 
dividual was fittest to be a Custom-House officer. Most 
persons, owing to causes which I may not have space 
to hint at, suffer moral detriment from this peculiar 
mode of life. The old Inspector was incapable of it, 
and, were he to continue in office to the end of time, 
would be just as good as he was then, and sit down to 
dinner with just as good an appetite. 

There is one likeness, without which my gallery of 
Custom-House portraits would be strangely incomplete ; 
but which my comparatively few opportunities for ob- 
servation enable me to sketch only in the merest out- 
line. It is that of the Collector, our gallant old Gen- 
eral, who, after his brilliant military service, subse- 
quently to which he had ruled over a wild Western 
territory, had come hither, twenty years before, to 
spend the decline of his varied and honorable life. 
The brave soldier had already numbered, nearly or 
quite, his threescore years and ten, and was pursuing 
the remainder of his earthly march, burdened with 
infirmities which even the martial music of his own 
spirit-stirring recollections could do little towards light- 
ening. The step was palsied now, that had been fore- 
most in the charge. It was only with the assistance of 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 23 

a servant, and by leaning his hand heavily on the iron 
balustrade, that he could slowly and painfully ascend 
the Custom-House steps, and, with a toilsome progress 
across the floor, attain his customary chair beside the 
fireplace. There he used to sit, gazing with a some- 
what dim serenity of aspect at the figures that came 
and went ; amid the rustle of papers, the administer- 
ing of oaths, the discussion of business, and the casual 
talk of the office ; all which sounds and circumstances 
seemed but indistinctly to impress his senses, and hard- 
ly to make their way into his inner sphere of contem- 
plation. His countenance, in this repose, was mild and 
kindly. If his notice was sought, an expression of 
courtesy and interest gleamed out upon his features ; 
proving that there was light within him, and that it was 
only the outward medium of the intellectual lamp that 
obstructed the rays in their passage. The closer you 
penetrated to the substance of his mind, the sounder it 
appeared. When no longer called upon to speak, or 
listen, either of which operations cost him an evident 
effort, his face would briefly subside into its former not 
uncheerful quietude. It was not painful to behold this 
look ; for, though dim, it had not the imbecility of de- 
caying age. The framework of his nature, originally 
strong and massive, was not yet crumbled into ruin. 

To observe and define his character, however, under 
such disadvantages, was as difficult a task as to trace 
out and build up anew, in imagination, an old fortress, 
like Ticonderoga, from a view of its gray and broken 
ruins. Here and there, perchance, the walls may re- 
main almost complete ; but elsewhere may be only a 



24 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

shapeless mound, cumbrous with its very strength, and 
overgrown, through long years of peace and neglect, 
with grass and alien weeds. 

Nevertheless, looking at the old warrior with affec- 
tion, — for, slight as was the communication between 
us, my feeling towards him, like that of all bipeds and 
quadrupeds who knew him, might not improperly be 
termed so, — I could discern the main points of his 
portrait. It was marked with the noble and heroic 
qualities which showed it to be not by a mere accident, 
but of good right, that he had won a distinguished name. 
His spirit could never, I conceive, have been character- 
ized by an uneasy activity ; it must, at any period of 
his life, have required an impulse to set him in motion ; 
but, once stirred up, with obstacles to overcome, and an 
adequate object to be attained, it was not in the man to 
give out or fail. The heat that had formerly pervaded 
his nature, and which was not yet extinct, was never of 
the kind that flashes and flickers in a blaze, but, rather, 
a deep, red glow, as of iron in a furnace. Weight, 
solidity, firmness ; this was the expression of his repose, 
even in such decay as had crept untimely over him, at 
the period of which I speak. But I could imagine, even 
then, that, under some excitement which should go 
deeply into his consciousness, — roused by a trumpet- 
peal, loud enough to awaken all of his energies that 
were not dead, but only slumbering, — he was yet capa- 
ble of flinging off his infirmities like a sick man's gown, 
dropping the staff of age to seize a battle-sword, and 
starting up once more a warrior. And, in so intense a 
moment, his demeanour would have still been calm. 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 25 

Such an exhibition, however, was but to be pictured in 
fancy ; not to be anticipated, nor desired. What I saw 
in him — as evidently as the indestructible ramparts of 
Old Ticonderoga, already cited as the most appropriate 
simile — were the features of stubborn and ponderous 
endurance, which might well have amounted to obsti- 
nacy in his earlier days ; of integrity, that, like most of 
his other endowments, lay in a somewhat heavy mass, 
and was just as unmalleable and unmanageable as a 
ton of iron ore ; and of benevolence, which, fiercely as 
he led the bayonets on at Chippewa or Fort Erie, I 
take to be of quite as genuine a stamp as what actu- 
ates any or all the polemical philanthropists of the age. 
He had slain men with his own hand, for aught I 
know ; — certainly, they had fallen, like blades of grass 
at the sweep of the scythe, before the charge to which 
his spirit imparted its triumphant energy; — but, be 
that as it might, there was never in his heart so much 
cruelty as would have brushed the down off a butter- 
fly's wing. I have not known the man, to whose innate 
kindliness I would more confidently make an appeal. 

Many characteristics — and those, too, which con- 
tribute not the least forcibly to impart resemblance in 
a sketch — must have vanished, or been obscured, 
before I met the General. All merely graceful attri- 
butes are usually the most evanescent ; nor does Nature 
adorn the human ruin with blossoms of new beauty, 
that have their roots and proper nutriment only in the 
chinks and crevices of decay, as she sows wall-flowers 
over the ruined fortress of Ticonderoga. Still, even in 
respect of grace and beauty, there were points well 



26 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

worth noting. A ray of humor, now and then, would 
make its way through the veil of dim obstruction, and 
glimmer pleasantly upon our faces. A trait of native 
elegance, seldom seen in the masculine character after 
childhood or early youth, was shown in the General's 
fondness for the sight and fragrance of flowers. An 
old soldier might be supposed to prize only the bloody 
laurel on his brow ; but here was one, who seemed to 
have a young girl's appreciation of the floral tribe. 

There, beside the fireplace, the brave old General 
used to sit ; while the Surveyor — though seldom, when 
it could be avoided, taking upon himself the difficult 
task of engaging him in conversation — was fond of 
standing at a distance, and watching his quiet and 
almost slumberous countenance. He seemed away 
from us, although we saw him but a few yards off; 
remote, though we passed close beside his chair; unat- 
tainable, though we might have stretched forth our 
hands and touched his own. It might be, that he lived 
a more real life within his thoughts, than amid the un- 
appropriate environment of the Collector's office. The 
evolutions of the parade ; the tumult of the battle ; the 
flourish of old, heroic music, heard thirty years before ; 
— such scenes and sounds, perhaps, were all alive 
before his intellectual sense. Meanwhile, the mer- 
chants and ship-masters, the spruce clerks, and uncouth 
sailors, entered and departed ; the bustle of this com- 
mercial and Custom-House life kept up its little mur- 
mur round about him ; and neither with the men nor 
their affairs did the General appear to sustain the most 
distant relation. He was as much out of place as an 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 27 

old sword — now rusty, but which had flashed once in 
the battle's front, and showed still a bright gleam along 
its blade — would have been, among the inkstands, pa- 
per-folders, and mahogany rulers, on the Deputy Col- 
lector's desk. 

There was one thing that much aided me in renew- 
ing and re-creating the stalwart soldier of the Niagara 
frontier, — the man of true and simple energy. It was 
the recollection of those memorable words of his, — 
" I '11 try, Sir ! " — spoken on the very verge of a des- 
perate and heroic enterprise, and breathing the soul 
and spirit of New England hardihood, comprehending 
all perils, and encountering all. If, in our country, 
valor were rewarded by heraldic honor, this phrase — 
which it seems so easy to speak, but which only he, 
with such a task of danger and glory before him, has 
ever spoken — would be the best and fittest of all mot- 
toes for the General's shield of arms. 

It contributes greatly towards a man's moral and in- 
tellectual health, to be brought into habits of compan- 
ionship with individuals unlike himself, who care little 
for his pursuits, and whose sphere and abilities he must 
go out of himself to appreciate. The accidents of my 
life have often afforded me this advantage, but never 
with more fulness and variety than during my continu- 
ance in office. There was one man, especially, the 
observation of whose character gave me a new idea of 
talent. His gifts were emphatically those of a man of 
business ; prompt, acute, clear-minded ; with an eye 
that saw through all perplexities, and a faculty of ar- 
rangement that made them vanish, as by the waving of 



28 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

an enchanter's wand. Bred up from boyhood in the 
Custom- House, it was his proper field of activity ; and 
the many intricacies of business, so harassing to the 
interloper, presented themselves before him with the 
regularity of a perfectly comprehended system. In 
my contemplation, he stood as the ideal of his class. 
He was, indeed, the Custom-House in himself; or, at 
all events, the main-spring that kept its variously re- 
volving wheels in motion ; for, in an institution like 
this, where its officers are appointed to subserve their 
own profit and convenience, and seldom with a leading 
reference to their fitness for the duty to be performed, 
they must perforce seek elsewhere the dexterity which 
is not in them. Thus, by an inevitable necessity, as a 
magnet attracts steel-filings, so did our man of business 
draw to himself the difficulties which everybody met 
with. With an easy condescension, and kind forbear- 
ance towards our stupidity, — which, to his order of 
mind, must have seemed little short of crime, — would 
he forthwith, by the merest touch of his finger, make 
the incomprehensible as clear as daylight. The mer- 
chants valued him not less than we, his esoteric friends. 
His integrity was perfect ; it was a law of nature with 
him, rather than a choice or a principle ; nor can it be 
otherwise than the main condition of an intellect so 
remarkably clear and accurate as his, to be honest and 
regular in the administration of affairs. A stain on his 
conscience, as to any thing that came within the range 
of his vocation, would trouble such a man very much 
in the same way, though to a far greater degree, than 
an error in the balance of an account, or an ink-blot 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 29 

on the fair page of a book of record. Here, in a 
word, — and it is a rare instance in my life, — I had 
met with a person thoroughly adapted to the situation 
which he held. 

Such were some of the people with whom I now 
found myself connected. I took it in good part at the 
hands of Providence, that I was thrown into a position 
so little akin to my past habits ; and set myself seri- 
ously to gather from it whatever profit was to be had. 
After my fellowship of toil and impracticable schemes, 
with the dreamy brethren of Brook Farm ; after living 
for three years within the subtile influence of an intel- 
lect like Emerson's ; after those wild, free days on the 
Assabeth, indulging fantastic speculations beside our 
fire of fallen boughs, with Ellery Channing ; after 
talking with Thoreau about pine-trees and Indian relics, 
in his hermitage at Walden ; after growing fastidious 
by sympathy with the classic refinement of Hillard's 
culture ; after becoming imbued with poetic sentiment 
at Longfellow's hearth-stone ; — it was time, at length, 
that I should exercise other faculties of my nature, and 
nourish myself with food for which I had hitherto had 
little appetite. Even the old Inspector was desirable, 
as a change of diet, to a man who had known Alcott. 
I looked upon it as an evidence, in some measure, of 
a system naturally well balanced, and lacking no essen- 
tial part of a thorough organization, that, with such 
associates to remember, I could mingle at once with 
men of altogether different qualities, and never murmur 
at the change. 

Literature, its exertions and objects, were now of 



30 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

little moment in my regard. I cared not, at this period, 
for books; they were apart from me. Nature, — 
except it were human nature, — the nature that is de- 
veloped in earth and sky, was, in one sense, hidden 
from me ; and all the imaginative delight, wherewith 
it had been spiritualized, passed away out of my mind. 
A gift, a faculty, if it had not departed, was suspended 
and inanimate within me. There would have been 
something sad, unutterably dreary, in all this, had I not 
been conscious that it lay at my own option to recall 
whatever was valuable in the past. It might be true, 
indeed, that this was a life which could not, with im- 
punity, be lived too long ; else, it might make me per- 
manently other than I had been, without transforming 
me into any shape which it would be worth my while 
to take. But I never considered it as other than a tran- 
sitory life. There was always a prophetic instinct, a 
low whisper in my ear, that, within no long period, and 
whenever a new change of custom should be essential 
to my good, a change would come. 

Meanwhile, there I was, a Surveyor of the Revenue, 
and, so far as I have been able to understand, as good 
a Surveyor as need be. A man of thought, fancy, 
and sensibility, (had he ten times the Surveyor's pro- 
portion of those qualities,) may, at any time, be a man 
of affairs, if he will only choose to give himself the 
trouble. My fellow-officers, and the merchants and 
sea-captains with whom my official duties brought me 
into any manner of connection, viewed me in no other 
light, and probably knew me in no other character. 
None of them, I presume, had ever read a page of my 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 31 

inditing, or would have cared a fig the more for me, if 
they had read them all ; nor would it have mended the 
matter, in the least, had those same unprofitable pages 
been written with a pen like that of Burns or of Chau- 
cer, each of whom was a Custom-House officer in his 
day, as well as I. It is a good lesson — though it may 
often be a hard one — for a man who has dreamed of 
literary fame, and of making for himself a rank among 
the world's dignitaries by such means, to step aside 
out of the narrow circle in which his claims are recog- 
nized, and to find how utterly devoid of significance, 
beyond that circle, is all that he achieves, and all he 
aims at. I know not that I especially needed the lesson, 
either in the way of warning or rebuke ; but, at any 
rate, I learned it thoroughly ; nor, it gives me pleasure 
to reflect, did the truth, as it came home to my percep- 
tion, ever cost me a pang, or require to be thrown off in 
a sigh. In the way of literary talk, it is true, the Naval 
Officer — an excellent fellow, who came into office 
with me, and went out only a little later — would often 
engage me in a discussion about one or the other of his 
favorite topics, Napoleon or Shakspeare. The Collec- 
tor's junior clerk, too, — a young gentleman who, it was 
whispered, occasionally covered a sheet of Uncle Sam's 
letter-paper with what, (at the distance of a few yards,) 
looked very much like poetry, — used now and then to 
speak to me of books, as matters with which I might 
possibly be conversant. This was my all of lettered 
intercourse ; and it was quite sufficient for my neces- 
sities. 

No longer seeking nor caring that my name should 



32 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

be blazoned abroad on title-pages, I smiled to think that 
it had now another kind of vogue. The Custom-House 
marker imprinted it, with a stencil and black paint, on 
pepper-bags, and baskets of anatto, and cigar-boxes, 
and bales of all kinds of dutiable merchandise, in testi- 
mony that these commodities had paid the impost, and 
gone regularly through the office. Borne on such queer 
vehicle of fame, a knowledge of my existence, so far 
as a name conveys it, was carried where it had never 
been before, and, I hope, will never go again. 

But the past was not dead. Once in a great while, 
the thoughts, that had seemed so vital and so active, yet 
had been put to rest so quietly, revived again. One of 
the most remarkable occasions, when the habit of by- 
gone days awoke in me, was that which brings it within 
the law of literary propriety to offer the public the 
sketch which I am now writing. 

In the second story of the Custom-House, there is 
a large room, in which the brick-work and naked raf- 
ters have never been covered with panelling and plaster. 
The edifice — originally projected on a scale adapted 
to the old commercial enterprise of the port, and with 
an idea of subsequent prosperity destined never to be 
realized — contains far more space than its occupants 
know what to do with. This airy hall, therefore, over 
the Collector's apartments, remains unfinished to this 
day, and, in spite of the aged cobwebs that festoon its 
dusky beams, appears still to await the labor of the 
carpenter and mason. At one end of the room, in a 
recess, were a number of barrels, piled one upon an- 
other, containing bundles of official documents. Large 






THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 33 

quantities of similar rubbish lay lumbering the floor. 
It was sorrowful to think how many days, and weeks, 
and months, and years of toil, had been wasted on 
these musty papers, which were now only an encum- 
brance on earth, and were hidden away in this forgotten 
corner, never more to be glanced at by human eyes. 
But, then, what reams of other manuscripts — filled, 
not with the dulness of official formalities, but with the 
thought of inventive brains and the rich effusion of deep 
hearts — had gone equally to oblivion ; and that, more- 
over, without serving a purpose in their day, as these 
heaped up papers had, and — saddest of all — with- 
out purchasing for their writers the comfortable liveli- 
hood which the clerks of the Custom-House had gained 
by these worthless scratchings of the pen ! Yet not 
altogether worthless, perhaps, as materials of local his- 
tory. Here, no doubt, statistics of the former com- 
merce of Salem might be discovered, and memorials 
of her princely merchants, — old King Derby, — old 
Billy Gray, — old Simon Forrester, — and many an- 
other magnate in his day ; whose powdered head, 
however, was scarcely in the tomb, before his moun- 
tain-pile of wealth began to dwindle. The founders 
of the greater part of the families which now com- 
pose the aristocracy of Salem might here be traced, 
from the petty and obscure beginnings of their traffic, 
at periods generally much posterior to the Revolution, 
upward to what their children look upon as long-estab- 
lished rank. 

Prior to the Revolution, there is a dearth of records ; 
the earlier documents and archives of the Custom- 
3 



34 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

House having, probably, been carried off to Halifax, 
when all the King's officials accompanied the British 
army in its flight from Boston. It has often been a 
matter of regret with me ; for, going back, perhaps, 
to the days of the Protectorate, those papers must have 
contained many references to forgotten or remembered 
men, and to antique customs, which would have affected 
me with the same pleasure as when I used to pick up 
Indian arrow-heads in the field near the Old Manse. 

But, one idle and rainy day, it was my fortune to 
make a discovery of some little interest. Poking and 
burrowing into the heaped-up rubbish in the corner; 
unfolding one and another document, and reading the 
names of vessels that had long ago foundered at sea 
or rotted at the wharves, and those of merchants, never 
heard of now on 'Change, nor very readily deciphera- 
ble on their mossy tombstones ; glancing at such mat- 
ters with the saddened, weary, half-reluctant interest 
which we bestow on the corpse of dead activity, — and 
exerting my fancy, sluggish with little use, to raise up 
from these dry bones an image of the old town's 
brighter aspect, when India was a new region, and only 
Salem knew the way thither, — I chanced to lay my 
hand on a small package, carefully done up in a piece 
of ancient yellow parchment. This envelope had the 
air of an official record of some period long past, when 
clerks engrossed their stiff and formal chirography on 
more substantial materials than at present. There was 
something about it that quickened an instinctive curi- 
osity, and made me undo the faded red tape, that tied 
up the package, with the sense that a treasure would 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 35 

here be brought to light. Unbending the rigid folds of 
the parchment cover, I found it to be a commission, 
under the hand and seal of Governor Shirley, in favor 
of one Jonathan Pue, as Surveyor of his Majesty's 
Customs for the port of Salem, in the Province of 
Massachusetts Bay. I remembered to have read (prob 
ably in Felt's Annals) a notice of the decease of Mr 
Surveyor Pue, about fourscore years ago ; and likewise 
in a newspaper of recent times, an account of the dig 
ging up of his remains in the little grave-yard of St, 
Peter's Church, during the renewal of that edifice 
Nothing, if I rightly call to mind, was left of my re 
spected predecessor, save an imperfect skeleton, and 
some fragments of apparel, and a wig of majestic friz- 
zle ; which, unlike the head that it once adorned, was 
in very satisfactory preservation. But, on examining 
the papers which the parchment commission served 
to envelop, I found more traces of Mr. Pue's mental 
part, and the internal operations of his head, than the 
frizzled wig had contained of the venerable skull 
itself. 

They were documents, in short, not official, but of a 
private nature, or, at least, written in his private ca- 
pacity, and apparently with his own hand. I could ac- 
count for their being included in the heap of Custom- 
House lumber only by the fact, that Mr. Pue's death 
had happened suddenly ; and that these papers, which 
he probably kept in his official desk, had never come 
to the knowledge of his heirs, or were supposed to re- 
late to the business of the revenue. On the transfer 
of the archives to Halifax, this package, proving to be 



3b THE SCARLET LETTEE. 

of no public concern, was left behind, and had remained 
ever since unopened. 

The ancient Surveyor — being little molested, I sup- 
pose, at that early day, with business pertaining to his 
office — seems to have devoted some of his many lei- 
sure hours to researches as a local antiquarian, and 
other inquisitions of a similar nature. These supplied 
material for petty activity to a mind that would other- 
wise have been eaten up with rust. A portion of his 
facts, by the by, did me good service in the preparation 
of the article entitled " Main Street," included in 
the present volume. The remainder may perhaps be 
applied to purposes equally valuable, hereafter ; or not 
impossibly may be worked up, so far as they go, into 
a regular history of Salem, should my veneration for 
the natal soil ever impel me to so pious a task. Mean- 
while, they shall be at the command of any gentleman, 
inclined, and competent, to take the unprofitable labor 
off my hands. As a final disposition, I contemplate 
depositing them with the Essex Historical Society. 

But the object that most drew my attention, in the 
mysterious package, was a certain affair of fine red 
cloth, much worn and faded. There were traces about 
it of gold embroidery, which, however, was greatly 
frayed and defaced ; so that none, or very little, of 
the glitter was left. It had been wrought, as was easy 
to perceive, with wonderful skill of needlework; and 
the stitch (as I am assured by ladies conversant with 
such mysteries) gives evidence of a now forgotten art, 
not to be recovered even by the process of picking 
out the threads. This rag of scarlet cloth, — for time, 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 37 

and wear, and a sacrilegious moth, had reduced it to 
little other than a rag, — on careful examination, as- 
sumed the shape of a letter. It was the capital letter 
A. By an accurate measurement, each limh proved 
to be precisely three inches and a quarter in length. 
It had been intended, there could be no doubt, as an 
ornamental article of dress ; but how it was to be worn, 
or what rank, honor, and dignity, in by-past times, were 
signified by it, was a riddle which (so evanescent are 
the fashions of the world in these particulars) I saw 
little hope of solving. And yet it strangely interested 
me. My eyes fastened themselves upon the old scar- 
let letter, and would not be turned aside. Certainly, 
there was some deep meaning in it, most worthy of in- 
terpretation, and which, as it were, streamed forth from 
the mystic symbol, subtly communicating itself to my 
sensibilities, but evading the analysis of my mind. 
- While thus perplexed, — and cogitating, among other 
hypotheses, whether the letter might not have been one 
of those decorations which the white men used to con- 
trive, in order to take the eyes of Indians, — I hap- 
pened to place it on my breast. It seemed to me, — 
the reader may smile, but must not doubt my word, 
— it seemed to me, then, that I experienced a sensation 
not altogether physical, yet almost so, as of burning 
heat ; and as if the letter were not of red cloth, but 
red-hot iron. I shuddered, and involuntarily let it fall 
upon the floor, 

In the absorbing contemplation of the scarlet letter, 
I had hitherto neglected to examine a small roll of din- 
gy paper, around which it had been twisted. This I 



38 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

now opened, and had the satisfaction to find, recorded 
by the old Surveyor's pen, a reasonably complete ex- 
planation of the whole affair. There were several 
foolscap sheets, containing many particulars respecting 
the life and conversation of one Hester Prynne, who 
appeared to have been rather a noteworthy personage 
in the view of our ancestors. She had flourished during 
a period between the early days of Massachusetts and 
the close of the seventeenth century. Aged persons, 
alive in the time of Mr. Surveyor Pue, and from whose 
oral testimony he had made up his narrative, remem- 
bered her, in their youth, as a very old, but not de- 
crepit woman, of a stately and solemn aspect. It had 
been her habit, from an almost immemorial date, to go 
about the country as a kind of voluntary nurse, and 
doing whatever miscellaneous good she might ; taking 
upon herself, likewise, to give advice in all matters, 
especially those of the heart; by which means, as a 
person of such propensities inevitably must, she gained 
from many people the reverence due to an angel, but, 
I should imagine, was looked upon by others as an in- 
truder and a nuisance. Prying farther into the manu- 
script, I found the record of other doings and sufferings 
of this singular woman, for most of which the reader 
is referred to the story entitled " The Scarlet Let- 
ter " ; and it should be borne carefully in mind, that the 
main facts of that story are authorized and authenticat- 
ed by the document of Mr. Surveyor Pue. The origi- 
nal papers, together with the scarlet letter itself, — a 
most curious relic, — are still in my possession, and 
shall be freely exhibited to whomsoever, induced by the 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 3\) 

great interest of the narrative, may desire a sight of 
them. I must not be understood as affirming, that, in 
the dressing up of the tale, and imagining the motives 
and modes of passion that influenced the characters who 
figure in it, I have invariably confined myself within 
the limits of the old Surveyor's half a dozen sheets of 
foolscap. On the contrary, I have allowed myself, 
as to such points, nearly or altogether as much license 
as if the facts had been entirely of my own invention. 
What I contend for is the authenticity of the outline. 

This incident recalled my mind, in some degree, to 
its old track. There seemed to be here the ground- 
work of a tale. It impressed me as if the ancient Sur- 
veyor, in his garb of a hundred years gone by, and 
wearing his immortal wig, — which was buried with 
him, but did not perish in the grave, — had met me in 
the deserted chamber of the Custom-House. In his 
•port was the dignity of one who had borne his Majesty's 
commission, and who was therefore illuminated by a 
ray of the splendor that shone so dazzlingly about the 
throne. How unlike, alas! the hang-dog look of a 
republican official, who, as the servant of the people, 
feels himself less than the least, and below the lowest, 
of his masters. With his own ghostly hand, the ob- 
scurely seen, but majestic, figure had imparted to me 
the scarlet symbol, and the little roll of explanatory 
manuscript. With his own ghostly voice, he had ex- 
horted me, on the sacred consideration of my filial duty 
and reverence towards him, — who might reasonably 
regard himself as my official ancestor, — to bring his 
mouldy and moth-eaten lucubrations before the public. 



40 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

" Do this," said the ghost of Mr. Surveyor Pue, em- 
phatically nodding the head that looked so imposing 
within its memorable wig, " do this, and the profit shall 
be all your own ! You will shortly need it ; for it is 
not in your days as it was in mine, when a man's office 
was a life-lease, and oftentimes an heirloom. But, I 
charge you, in this matter of old Mistress Prynne, give 
to your predecessor's memory the credit which will be 
rightfully its due ! " And I said to the ghost of Mr. 
Surveyor Pue, — "I will ! " 

On Hester Prynne's story, therefore, I bestowed 
much thought. It was the subject of my meditations 
for many an hour, while pacing to and fro across my 
room, or traversing, with a hundredfold repetition, the 
long extent from the front-door of the Custom-House 
to the side -entrance, and back again. Great were the 
weariness and annoyance of the old Inspector and the 
Weighers and Gaugers, whose slumbers were disturbed 
by the unmercifully lengthened tramp of my passing 
and returning footsteps. Remembering their own for- 
mer habits, they used to say that the Surveyor was 
walking the quarter-deck. They probably fancied that 
my sole object — and, indeed, the sole object for which 
a sane man could ever put himself into voluntary 
motion — was, to get an appetite for dinner. And to 
say the truth, an appetite, sharpened by the east-wind 
that generally blew along the passage, was the only 
valuable result of so much indefatigable exercise. So 
little adapted is the atmosphere of a Custom-House to 
the delicate harvest of fancy and sensibility, that, had I 
remained there through ten Presidencies yet to come, 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 41 

I doubt whether the tale of "The Scarlet Letter" 
would ever have been brought before the public eye. 
My imagination was a tarnished mirror. It would not 
reflect, or only with miserable dimness, the figures with 
which I did my best to people it. The characters of 
the narrative would not be warmed and rendered mal- 
leable, by any heat that I could kindle at my intellectu- 
al forge. They would take neither the glow of pas- 
sion nor the tenderness of sentiment, but retained all 
the rigidity of dead corpses, and stared me in the face 
with a fixed and ghastly grin of contemptuous defiance. 
" What have you to do with us ? " that expression 
seemed to say. " The little power you might once 
have possessed over the tribe of unrealities is gone ! 
You have bartered it for a pittance of the public gold. 
Go, then, and earn your wages ! " In short, the 
almost torpid creatures of my own fancy twitted me 
with imbecility, and not without fair occasion. 

It was not merely during the three hours and a half 
which Uncle Sam claimed as his share of my daily 
life, that this wretched numbness held possession of 
me. It went with me on my sea-shore walks and ram- 
bles into the country, whenever — which was seldom 
and reluctantly — I bestirred myself to seek that invig- 
orating charm of Nature, which used to give me such 
freshness and activity of thought, the moment that I step- 
ped across the threshold of the Old Manse. The same 
torpor, as regarded the capacity for intellectual effort, 
accompanied me home, and weighed upon me in the 
chamber which I most absurdly termed my study. Nor 
did it quit me, when, late at night, I sat in the deserted 



42 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 



parlour, lighted only by the glimmering coal-fire and the 
moon, striving to picture forth imaginary scenes, which, 
the next day, might flow out on the brightening page in 
many-hued description. 

If the imaginative faculty refused to act at such an 
hour, it might well be deemed a hopeless case. Moon- 
light, in a familiar room, falling so white upon the 
carpet, and showing all its figures so distinctly, — mak- 
ing every object so minutely visible, yet so unlike a 
morning or noontide visibility, — is a medium the most 
suitable for a romance-writer to get acquainted with his 
illusive guests. There is the little domestic scenery of 
the well-known apartment; the chairs, with each its 
separate individuality; the centre-table, sustaining a 
work-basket, a volume or two, and an extinguished 
lamp ; the sofa ; the book-case ; the picture on the 
wall; — all these details, so completely seen, are so 
spiritualized by the unusual light, that they seem to 
lose their actual substance, and become things of intel- 
lect. Nothing is too small or too trifling to undergo 
this change, and acquire dignity thereby. A child's 
shoe ; the doll, seated in her little wicker carriage ; the 
hobby-horse ; — whatever, in a word, has been used or 
played with, during the day, is now invested with a 
quality of strangeness and remoteness, though still 
almost as vividly present as by daylight. Thus, there- 
fore, the floor of our familiar room has become a 
neutral territory, somewhere between the real world 
and fairy-land, where the Actual and the Imaginary 
may meet, and each imbue itself with the nature of the 
other. Ghosts might enter here, without affrighting us. 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 43 

It would be too much in keeping with the scene to 
excite surprise, were we to look about us and discover 
a form, beloved, but gone hence, now sitting quietly in 
a streak of this magic moonshine, with an aspect that 
would make us doubt whether it had returned from 
afar, or had never once stirred from our fireside. 

The somewhat dim coal-fire has an essential influ- 
ence in producing the effect which I would describe. 
It throws its unobtrusive tinge throughout the room, 
with a faint ruddiness upon the walls and ceiling, and a 
reflected gleam from the polish of the furniture. This 
warmer light mingles itself with the cold spirituality of 
the moonbeams, and communicates, as it were, a heart 
and sensibilities of human tenderness to the forms 
which fancy summons up. It converts them from 
snow-images into men and women. Glancing at the 
looking-glass, we behold — deep within its haunted 
yerge — the smouldering glow of the half-extinguished 
anthracite, the white moonbeams on the floor, and a 
repetition of all the gleam and shadow of the picture, 
with one remove farther from the actual, and nearer to 
the imaginative. Then, at such an hour, and with this 
scene before him, if a man, sitting all alone, cannot 
dream strange things, and make them look like truth, 
he need never try to write romances. 

But, for myself, during the whole of my Custom- 
House experience, moonlight and sunshine, and the 
glow of fire-light, were just alike in my regard ; and 
neither of them was of one whit more avail than the 
twinkle of a tallow-candle. An entire class of suscep- 
tibilities, and a gift connected with them, — of no great 



44 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

richness or value, but the best I had, — was gone from 
me. 

It is my belief, however, that, had I attempted a dif- 
ferent order of composition, my faculties would not 
have been found so pointless and inefficacious. I might, 
for instance, have contented myself with writing out 
the narratives of a veteran shipmaster, one of the 
Inspectors, whom I should be most ungrateful not to 
mention ; since scarcely a day passed that he did not 
stir me to laughter and admiration by his marvellous 
gifts as a story-teller. Could I have preserved the 
picturesque force of his style, and the humorous color- 
ing which nature taught him how to throw over his 
descriptions, the result, I honestly believe, would have 
been something new in literature. Or I might readily 
have found a more serious task. It was a folly, with 
the materiality of this daily life pressing so intrusively 
upon me, to attempt to fling myself back into another 
age ; or to insist on creating the semblance of a world 
out of airy matter, when, at every moment, the impal- 
pable beauty of my soap-bubble was broken by the 
rude contact of some actual circumstance. The wiser 
effort would have been, to diffuse thought and imagina- 
tion through the opaque substance of to-day, and thus 
to make it a bright transparency ; to spiritualize the 
burden that began to weigh so heavily ; to seek, reso- 
lutely, the true and indestructible value that lay hidden 
in the petty and wearisome incidents, and ordinary 
characters, with which I was now conversant. The 
fault was mine. The page of life that was spread out 
before me seemed dull and commonplace, only be- 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 45 

cause I had not fathomed its deeper import. A better 
book than I shall ever write was there ; leaf after leaf 
presenting itself to me, just as it was written out by 
the reality of the flitting hour, and vanishing as fast as 
written, only because my brain wanted the insight and 
my hand the cunning to transcribe it. At some future 
day, it may be, I shall remember a few scattered frag- 
ments and broken paragraphs, and write them down, 
and find the letters turn to gold upon the page. 

These perceptions have come too late. At the in- 
stant, I was only conscious that what would have been 
a pleasure once was now a hopeless toil. There was 
no occasion to make much moan about this state of 
affairs. I had ceased to be a writer of tolerably poor 
tales and essays, and had become a tolerably good Sur- 
veyor of the Customs. That was all. But, neverthe- 
less, it is any thing but agreeable to be haunted by a 
suspicion that one's intellect is dwindling away ; or 
exhaling, without your consciousness, like ether out of 
a phial ; so that, at every glance, you find a smaller 
and less volatile residuum. Of the fact, there could 
be no doubt ; and, examining myself and others, I was 
led to conclusions in reference to the effect of public 
office on the character, not very favorable to the mode 
of life in question. In some other form, perhaps, I 
may hereafter develop these effects. Suffice it here 
to say, that a Custom-House officer, of long continu- 
ance, can hardly be a very praiseworthy or respectable 
personage, for many reasons ; one of them, the tenure 
by which he holds his situation, and another, the very 
nature of his business, which — though, I trust, an 



46 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

honest one — is of such a sort that he does not share in 
the united effort of mankind. 

An effect — which I believe to be observable, more 
or less, in every individual who has occupied the posi- 
tion — is, that, while he leans on the mighty arm of the 
Republic, his own proper strength departs from him. 
He loses, in an extent proportioned to the weakness or 
force of his original nature, the capability of self-sup- 
port. If he possess an unusual share of native energy, 
or the enervating magic of place do not operate too 
long upon him, his forfeited powers may be redeem- 
able. The ejected officer — fortunate in the unkindly 
shove that sends him forth betimes, to struggle amid a 
struggling world — may return to himself, and become 
all that he has ever been. But this seldom happens. 
He usually keeps his ground just long enough for his 
own ruin, and is then thrust out, with sinews all un- 
strung, to totter along the difficult footpath of life as 
he best may. Conscious of his own infirmity, — that 
his tempered steel and elasticity are lost, — he for ever 
afterwards looks wistfully about him in quest of support 
external to himself. His pervading and continual hope 
— a hallucination, which, in the face of all discourage- 
ment, and making light of impossibilities, haunts him 
while he lives, and, I fancy, like the convulsives throes 
of the cholera, torments him for a brief space after 
death — is, that, finally, and in no long time, by some 
happy coincidence of circumstances, he shall be re- 
stored to office. This faith, more than any thing else, 
steals the pith and availability out of whatever enterprise 
he may dream of undertaking. Why should he toil 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 47 

and moil, and be at so much trouble to pick himself 
up out of the mud, when, in a little while hence, the 
strong arm of his Uncle will raise and support him ? 
Why should he work for his living here, or go to dig 
gold in California, when he is so soon to be made hap- 
py, at monthly intervals, with a little pile of glittering 
coin out of his Uncle's pocket ? It is sadly curious to 
observe how slight a taste of office suffices to infect a 
poor fellow with this singular disease. Uncle Sam's 
gold — meaning no disrespect to the worthy old gentle- 
man — has, in this respect, a quality of enchantment 
like that of the Devil's wages. Whoever touches it 
should look well to himself, or he may find the bargain 
to go hard against him, involving, if not his soul, yet 
many of its better attributes ; its sturdy force, its cour- 
age and constancy, its truth, its self-reliance, and all 
that gives the emphasis to manly character. 

Here was a fine prospect in the distance ! Not that 
the Surveyor brought the lesson home to himself, or 
admitted that he could be so utterly undone, either by 
continuance in office, or ejectment. Yet my reflections 
were not the most comfortable. I began to grow mel- 
ancholy and restless ; continually prying into my mind, 
to discover which of its poor properties were gone, and 
what degree of detriment had already accrued to the 
remainder. I endeavoured to calculate how much long- 
er I could stay in the Custom- House, and yet go forth 
a man. To confess the truth, it was my greatest appre- 
hension, — as it would never be a measure of policy to 
turn out so quiet an individual as myself, and it being 
hardly in the nature of a public officer to resign, — it 



48 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

was my chief trouble, therefore, that I was likely to 
grow gray and decrepit in the Surveyorship, and be- 
come much such another animal as the old Inspector. 
Might it not, in the tedious lapse of official life that lay 
before me, finally be with me as it was with this ven- 
erable friend, — to make the dinner-hour the nucleus 
of the day, and to spend the rest of it, as an old dog 
spends it, asleep in the sunshine or the shade ? A 
dreary look-forward this, for a man who felt it to be 
the best definition of happiness to live throughout the 
whole range of his faculties and sensibilities ! But, all 
this while, I was giving myself very unnecessary alarm. 
Providence had meditated better things for me than I 
could possibly imagine for myself. 

A remarkable event of the third year of my Survey- 
orship — to adopt the tone of " P. P." — was the elec- 
tion of General Taylor to the Presidency. It is essen- 
tial, in order to a complete estimate of the advantages 
of official life, to view the incumbent at the in-coming 
of a hostile administration. His position is then one of 
the most singularly irksome, and, in every contingency, 
disagreeable, that a wretched mortal can possibly occu- 
py ; with seldom an alternative of good, on either hand, 
although what presents itself to him as the worst event 
may very probably be the best. But it is a strange ex- 
perience, to a man of pride and sensibility, to know 
that his interests are within the control of individuals 
who neither love nor understand him, and by whom, 
since one or the other must needs happen, he would 
rather be injured than obliged. Strange, too, for one 
who has kept his calmness throughout the contest, to 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 49 

observe the bloodthirstiness that is developed in the 
hour of triumph, and to be conscious that he is himself 
among its objects ! There are few uglier traits of hu- 
man nature than this tendency — which I now witnessed 
in men no worse than their neighbours — to grow cruel, 
merely because they possessed the power of inflicting 
harm. If the guillotine, as applied to office-holders, 
were a literal fact, instead of one of the most apt of 
metaphors, it is my sincere belief, that the active mem- 
bers of the victorious party were sufficiently excited to 
have chopped off all our heads, and have thanked 
Heaven for the opportunity ! It appears to me — who 
have been a calm and curious observer, as well in vic- 
tory as defeat — that this fierce and bitter spirit of 
malice and revenge has never distinguished the many 
triumphs of my own party as it now did that of the 
Whigs. The Democrats take the offices, as a general 
rule, because they need them, and because the practice 
of many years has made it the law of political warfare, 
which, unless a different system be proclaimed, it were 
weakness and cowardice to murmur at. But the long 
habit of victory has made them generous. They know 
how to spare, when they see occasion ; and when they 
strike, the axe may be sharp, indeed, but its edge is 
seldom poisoned with ill-will ; nor is it their custom 
ignominiously to kick the head which they have just 
struck off. 

In short, unpleasant as was my predicament, at best, 

I saw much reason to congratulate myself that I was on 

the losing side, rather than the triumphant one. If, 

heretofore, I had been none of the warmest of parti- 

4 



50 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

sans, I began now, at this season of peril and adversity, 
to be pretty acutely sensible with which party my pre- 
dilections lay ; nor was it without something like regret 
and shame, that, according to a reasonable calculation 
of chances, I saw my own prospect of retaining office 
to be better than those of my Democratic brethren. 
But who can see an inch into futurity, beyond his 
nose ? My own head was the first that fell ! 

The moment when a man's head drops off is seldom 
or never, I am inclined to think, precisely the most 
agreeable of his life. Nevertheless, like the greater 
part of our misfortunes, even so serious a contingency 
brings its remedy and consolation with it, if the sufferer 
will but make the best, rather than the worst, of the 
accident which has befallen him. In my particular 
case, the consolatory topics were close at hand, and, 
indeed, had suggested themselves to my meditations a 
considerable time before it was requisite to use them. 
In view of my previous weariness of office, and vague 
thoughts of resignation, my fortune somewhat resem- 
bled that of a person who should entertain an idea of 
committing suicide, and, altogether beyond his hopes, 
meet with the good hap to be murdered. In the Cus- 
tom-House, as before in the Old Manse, I had spent 
three years ; a term long enough to rest a weary brain ; 
long enough to break off old intellectual habits, and 
make room for new ones ; long enough, and too long, 
to have lived in an unnatural state, doing what was 
really of no advantage nor delight to any human being, 
and withholding myself from toil that would, at least, 
have stilled an unquiet impulse in me. Then, more- 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 51 

over, as regarded his unceremonious ejectment, the late 
Surveyor was not altogether ill-pleased to be recognized 
by the Whigs as an enemy ; since his inactivity in 
political affairs, — his tendency to roam, at will, in that 
broad and quiet field where all mankind may meet, 
rather than confine himself to those narrow paths 
where brethren of the same household must diverge 
from one another, — had sometimes made it question- 
able with his brother Democrats whether he was a 
friend. Now, after he had won the crown of martyr- 
dom, (though with no longer a head to wear it on,) the 
point might be looked upon as settled. Finally, little 
heroic as he was, it seemed more decorous to be over- 
thrown in the downfall of the party with which he had 
been content to stand, than to remain a forlorn survivor, 
when so many worthier men were falling ; and, at last, 
after subsisting for four years on the mercy of a hostile 
administration, to be compelled then to define his po- 
sition anew, and claim the yet more humiliating mercy 
of a friendly one. 

Meanwhile, the press had taken up my affair, and 
kept me, for a week or two, careering through the pub- 
lic prints, in my decapitated state, like Irving's Head- 
less Horseman ; ghastly and grim, and longing to be 
buried, as a politically dead man ought. So much for 
my figurative self. The real human being, all this 
time, with his head safely on his shoulders, had brought 
himself to the comfortable conclusion, that every thing 
was for the best ; and, making an investment in ink, 
paper, and steel-pens, had opened his long-disused 
writing-desk, and was again a literary man. 



52 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

Now it was, that the lucubrations of my ancient pred- 
ecessor, Mr. Surveyor Pue, came into play. Rusty 
through long idleness, some little space was requisite 
before my intellectual machinery could be brought to 
work upon the tale, with an effect in any degree satis- 
factory. Even yet, though my thoughts were ulti- 
mately much absorbed in the task, it wears, to my eye, 
a stern and sombre aspect ; too much ungladdened by 
genial sunshine ; too little relieved by the tender and 
familiar influences which soften almost every scene of 
nature and real life, and, undoubtedly, should soften 
every picture of them. This uncaptivating effect is 
perhaps due to the period of hardly accomplished 
revolution, and still seething turmoil, in which the story 
shaped itself. It is no indication, however, of a lack 
of cheerfulness in the writer's mind ; for he was hap- 
pier, while straying through the gloom of these sunless 
fantasies, than at any time since he had quitted the Old 
Manse. Some of the briefer articles, which contribute 
to make up the volume, have likewise been written 
since my involuntary withdrawal from the toils and 
honors of public life, and the remainder are gleaned 
from annuals and magazines, of such antique date that 
they have gone round the circle, and come back to 
novelty again.* Keeping up the metaphor of the po- 
litical guillotine, the whole may be considered as the 
Posthumous Papers of a Decapitated Surveyor; 



* At the time of writing this article, the author intended to 
publish, along with " The Scarlet Letter," several shorter tales 
and sketches. These it has been thought advisable to defer. 



THE CUSTOM-HOUSE. 53 

and the sketch which I am now bringing to a close, if 
too autobiographical for a modest person to publish in 
his lifetime, will readily be excused in a gentleman who 
writes from beyond the grave. Peace be with all the 
world ! My blessing on my friends ! My forgiveness 
to my enemies ! For I am in the realm of quiet ! 

The life of the Custom-House lies like a dream behind 
me. The old Inspector, — who, by the by, I regret to 
say, was overthrown and killed by a horse, some time 
ago ; else he would certainly have lived for ever, — he, 
and all those other venerable personages who sat with 
him at the receipt of custom, are but shadows in my 
view ; white-headed and wrinkled images, which my 
fancy used to sport with, and has now flung aside for 
ever. The merchants, — Pingree, Phillips, Shepard, Up- 
ton, Kimball, Bertram, Hunt, — these, and many other 
names, which had such a classic familiarity for my ear 
six months ago, — these men of traffic, who seemed to 
occupy so important a position in the world, — how little 
time has it required to disconnect me from them all, not 
merely in act, but recollection! It is with an effort 
that I recall the figures and appellations of these few. 
Soon, likewise, my old native town will loom upon me 
through the haze of memory, a mist brooding over and 
around it ; as if it were no portion of the real earth, 
but an overgrown village in cloud-land, with only im- 
aginary inhabitants to people its wooden houses, and 
walk its homely lanes, and the unpicturesque prolixity 
of its main street. Henceforth, it ceases to be a 
reality of my life. I am a citizen of somewhere else. 
My good townspeople will not much regret me ; for 



54 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

— though it has been as dear an object as any, in my 
literary efforts, to be of some importance in their eyes, 
and to win myself a pleasant memory in this abode 
and burial-place of so many of my forefathers — there 
has never been, for me, the genial atmosphere which a 
literary man requires, in order to ripen the best harvest 
of his mind. I shall do better amongst other faces ; 
and these familiar ones, it need hardly be said, will do 
just as well without me. 

It may be, however, — 0, transporting and trium- 
phant thought ! — that the great-grandchildren of the 
present race may sometimes think kindly of the scrib- 
bler of bygone days, when the antiquary of days to 
come, among the sites memorable in the town's history, 
shall point out the locality of The Town-Pump ! 



THE SCARLET LETTER 



I. 



THE PRISON-DOOR. 



A throng of bearded men, in sad-colored garments 
and gray, steeple-crowned hats, intermixed with women, 
some wearing hoods, and others bareheaded, was 
assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of 
which was heavily timbered with oak, and studded with 
iron spikes. 

The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of 
human virtue and happiness they might originally pro- 
ject, have invariably recognized it among their earliest 
practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil 
as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a 
prison. In accordance with this rule, it may safely be 
assumed that the forefathers of Boston had built the 
first prison-house, somewhere in the vicinity of Corn- 
hill, almost as seasonably as they marked out the first 
burial-ground, on Isaac Johnson's lot, and round about 
his grave, which subsequently became the nucleus of 



56 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

all the congregated sepulchres in the old church-yard 
of King's Chapel. Certain it is, that, some fifteen or 
twenty years after the settlement of the town, the 
wooden jail was already marked with weather-stains 
and other indications of age, which gave a yet darker 
aspect to its beetle-browed and gloomy front. The 
rust on the ponderous iron-work of its oaken door 
looked more antique than any thing else in the new 
world. Like all that pertains to crime, it seemed never 
to have known a youthful era. Before this ugly edifice, 
and between it and the wheel-track of the street, was a 
grass-plot, much overgrown with burdock, pig-weed, 
apple-peru, and such unsightly vegetation, which evi- 
dently found something congenial in the soil that had 
so early borne the black flower of civilized society, a 
prison. But, on one side of the portal, and rooted 
almost at the threshold, was a wild rose-bush, covered, 
in this month of June, with its delicate gems, which 
might be imagined to offer their fragrance and fragile 
beauty to the prisoner as he went in, and to the con- 
demned criminal as he came forth to his doom, in 
token that the deep heart of Nature could pity and be 
kind to him. 

This rose-bush, by a strange chance, has been kept 
alive in history ; but whether it had merely survived 
out of the stern old wilderness, so long after the fall of 
the gigantic pines and oaks that originally overshadowed 
it, — or whether, as there is fair authority for believing, 
it had sprung up under the footsteps of the sainted 
Ann Hutchinson, as she entered the prison-door, — we 
shall not take upon us to determine. Finding it so 



THE PRISON-DOOR. 57 

directly on the threshold of our narrative, which is now 
about to issue from that inauspicious portal, we could 
hardly do otherwise than pluck one of its flowers and 
present it to the reader. It may serve, let us hope, to 
symbolize some sweet moral blossom, that may be 
found along the track, or relieve the darkening close of 
a tale of human frailty and sorrow. 



58 THE SCARLET LETTER. 



II. 

THE MARKET-PLACE. 

The grass-plot before the jail, in Prison Lane, on a 
certain summer morning, not less than two centuries 
ago, was occupied by a pretty large number of the in- 
habitants of Boston ; all with their eyes intently fas- 
tened on the iron-clamped oaken door. Amongst any 
other population, or at a later period in the history of 
New England, the grim rigidity that petrified the 
bearded physiognomies of these good people would 
have augured some awful business in hand. It could 
have betokened nothing short of the anticipated execu- 
tion of some noted culprit, on whom the sentence of a 
legal tribunal had but confirmed the verdict of public 
sentiment. But, in that early severity of the Puritan 
character, an inference of this kind could not so indu- 
bitably be drawn. It might be that a sluggish bond- 
servant, or an undutiful child, whom his parents had 
given over to the civil authority, was to be corrected at 
the whipping-post. It might be, that an Antinomian, 
a Quaker, or other heterodox religionist, was to be 
scourged out of the town, or an idle and vagrant Indian, 
whom the white man's fire-water had made riotous about 
the streets, was to be driven with stripes into the shadow 
of the forest. It might be, too, that a witch, like old 



THE MARKET-PLACE. 59 

Mistress Hibbins, the bitter-tempered widow of the 
magistrate, was to die upon the gallows. In either 
case, there was very much the same solemnity of de- 
meanour on the part of the spectators ; as befitted a 
people amongst whom religion and law were almost 
identical, and in whose character both were so thor- 
oughly interfused, that the mildest and the severest acts 
of public discipline were alike made venerable and 
awful. Meagre, indeed, and cold, was the sympathy 
that a transgressor might look for, from such by- 
standers at the scaffold. On the other hand, a penalty 
which, in our days, would infer a degree of mocking 
infamy and ridicule, might then be invested with al- 
most as stern a dignity as the punishment of death 
itself. 

It was a circumstance to be noted, on the summer 
morning when our story begins its course, that the 
women, of whom there were several in the crowd, ap- 
peared to take a peculiar interest in whatever penal 
infliction might be expected to ensue. The age had 
not so much refinement, that any sense of impropriety 
restrained the wearers of petticoat and farthingale from 
stepping forth into the public ways, and wedging their 
not unsubstantial persons, if occasion were, into the 
throng nearest to the scaffold at an execution. Morally, 
as well as materially, there was a coarser fibre in those 
wives and maidens of old English birth and breeding, 
than in their fair descendants, separated from them by 
a series of six or seven generations ; for, throughout 
that chain of ancestry, every successive mother has 
transmitted to her child a fainter bloom, a more delicate 



60 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

and briefer beauty, and a slighter physical frame, if not 
a character of less force and solidity, than her own. 
The women, who were now standing about the prison- 
door, stood within less than half a century of the period 
when the man-like Elizabeth had been the not altogeth- 
er unsuitable representative of the sex. They were her 
countrywomen ; and the beef and ale of their native 
land, with a moral diet not a whit more refined, entered 
largely into their composition. The bright morning 
sun, therefore, shone on broad shoulders and well-de- 
veloped busts, and on round and ruddy cheeks, that had 
ripened in the far-off island, and had hardly yet grown 
paler or thinner in the atmosphere of New England. 
There was, moreover, a boldness and rotundity of 
speech among these matrons, as most of them seemed 
to be, that would startle us at the present day, whether 
in respect to its purport or its volume of tone. 

" Goodwives," said a hard-featured dame of fifty, 
" I '11 tell ye a piece of my mind. It would be greatly 
for the public behoof, if we women, being of mature 
age and church-members in good repute, should have 
the handling of such malefactresses as this Hester 
Prynne. What think ye, gossips ? If the hussy stood 
up for judgment before us five, that are now here in a 
knot together, would she come off with such a sentence 
as the worshipful magistrates have awarded ? Marry, 
I trow not ! " 

" People say," said another, " that the Reverend 
Master Dimmesdale, her godly pastor, takes it very 
grievously to heart that such a scandal should have 
come upon his congregation." 



THE MARKET-PLACE. 61 

" The magistrates are God-fearing gentlemen, but 
merciful overmuch, — that is a truth," added a third 
autumnal matron. " At the very least, they should have 
put the brand of a hot iron on Hester Prynne's fore- 
head. Madam Hester would have winced at that, I 
warrant me. But she, — the naughty baggage, — little 
will she care what they put upon the bodice of her 
gown! Why, look you, she may cover it with a 
brooch, or such like heathenish adornment, arid so 
walk the streets as brave as ever ! " 

" Ah, but," interposed, more softly, a young wife, 
holding a child by the hand, " let her cover the mark as 
she will, the pang of it will be always in her heart." 

" What do we talk of marks and brands, whether on 
the bodice of her gown, or the flesh of her forehead ? " 
cried another female, the ugliest as well as the most 
pitiless of these self-constituted judges. " This woman 
has brought shame upon us all, and ought to die. Is 
there not law for it ? Truly there is, both in the Scrip- 
ture and the statute-book. Then let the magistrates, 
who have made it of no effect, thank themselves if 
their own wives and daughters go astray ! " 

" Mercy on us, goodwife," exclaimed a man in the 
crowd, " is there no virtue in woman, save what springs 
from a wholesome fear of the gallows ? That is the 
hardest word yet! Hush, now, gossips ; for the lock 
is turning in the prison-door, and here comes Mistress 
Prynne herself." 

The door of the jail being flung open from within, 
there appeared, in the first place, like a black shadow 
emerging into the sunshine, the grim and grisly presence 



62 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

of the town-beadle, with a sword by his side and his 
staff of office in his hand. This personage prefigured 
and represented in his aspect the whole dismal severity 
of the Puritanic code of law, which it was his business 
to administer in its final and closest application to the 
offender. Stretching forth the official staff in his left 
hand, he laid his right upon the shoulder of a young 
woman, whom he thus drew forward ; until, on the 
threshold of the prison-door, she repelled him, by an 
action marked with natural dignity and force of char- 
acter, and stepped into the open air, as if by her own 
free-will. She bore in her arms a child, a baby of 
some three months old, who winked and turned aside 
its little face from the too vivid light of day ; because 
its existence, heretofore, had brought it acquainted only 
with the gray twilight of a dungeon, or other darksome 
apartment of the prison. 

When the young woman — the mother of this child 
— stood fully revealed before the crowd, it seemed to 
be her first impulse to clasp the infant closely to her 
bosom ; not so much by an impulse of motherly affec- 
tion, as that she might thereby conceal a certain token, 
which was wrought or fastened into her dress. In a 
moment, however, wisely judging that one token of her 
shame would but poorly serve to hide another, she took 
the baby on her arm, and, with a burning blush, and 
yet a haughty smile, and a glance that would not be 
abashed, looked around at her townspeople and neigh- 
bours. On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth, 
surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic 
flourishes of gold thread, appeared the letter A. It was 



THE MARKET-PLACE. 63 

so artistically done, and with so much fertility and gor- 
geous luxuriance of fancy, that it had all the effect of a 
last and fitting decoration to the apparel which she 
wore ; and which was of a splendor in accordance 
with the taste of the age, but greatly beyond what was 
allowed by the sumptuary regulations of the colony. 

The young woman was tall, with a figure of perfect 
elegance, on a large scale. She had dark and abun- 
dant hair, so glossy that it threw off the sunshine with a 
gleam, and a face which, besides being beautiful from 
regularity of feature and richness of complexion, had 
the impressiveness belonging to a marked brow and 
deep black eyes. She was lady-like, too, after the man- 
ner of the feminine gentility of those days ; character- 
ized by a certain state and dignity, rather than by the 
delicate, evanescent, and indescribable grace, which is 
now recognized as its indication. And never had 
Hester Prynne appeared more lady-like, in the antique 
interpretation of the term, than as she issued from the 
prison. Those who had before known her, and had 
expected to behold her dimmed and obscured by 
a disastrous cloud, were astonished, and even star- 
tled, to perceive how her beauty shone out, and 
made a halo of the misfortune and ignominy in which 
she was enveloped. It may be true, that, to a sensi- 
tive observer, there was something exquisitely painful 
in it. Her attire, which, indeed, she had wrought 
for the occasion, in prison, and had modelled much 
after her own fancy, seemed to express the attitude of 
her spirit, the desperate recklessness of her mood, by its 
wild and picturesque peculiarity. But the point which 



64 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

drew all eyes, and, as it were, transfigured the wearer, 
— so that both men and women, who had been famil- 
iarly acquainted with Hester Prynne, were now im- 
pressed as if they beheld her for the first time, — was 
that Scarlet Letter, so fantastically embroidered and 
illuminated upon her bosom. It had the effect of a 
spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with 
humanity, and inclosing her in a sphere by herself. 

" She hath good skill at her needle, that 's certain," 
remarked one of the female spectators ; " but did ever 
a woman, before this brazen hussy, contrive such a 
way of showing it ! Why, gossips, what is it but to 
laugh in the faces of our godly magistrates, and make 
a pride out of what they, worthy gentlemen, meant for 
a punishment ? " 

" It were well," muttered the most iron-visaged of the 
old dames, " if we stripped Madam Hester's rich gown 
off her dainty shoulders ; and as for the red letter, 
which she hath stitched so curiously, I '11 bestow a rag 
of mine own rheumatic flannel, to make a fitter one ! " 

" O, peace, neighbours, peace ! " whispered their 
youngest companion. " Do not let her hear you ! Not 
a stitch in that embroidered letter, but she has felt it 
in her heart." 

The grim beadle now made a gesture with his staff*. 

" Make way, good people, make way, in the King's 
name," cried he. " Open a passage ; and, I promise 
ye, Mistress Prynne shall be set where man, woman, 
and child may have a fair sight of her brave apparel, 
from this time till an hour past meridian. A blessing 
on the righteous Colony of the Massachusetts, where 



THE MARKET-PLACE. 65 

iniquity is dragged out into the sunshine ! Come along, 
Madam Hester, and show your scarlet letter in the mar- 
ket-place ! " 

A lane was forthwith opened through the crowd of 
spectators. Preceded by the beadle, and attended by 
an irregular procession of stern-browed men and un- 
kindly-visaged women, Hester Prynne set forth towards 
the place appointed for her punishment. A crowd of 
eager and curious schoolboys, understanding little of 
the matter in hand, except that it gave them a half-hol- 
iday, ran before her progress, turning their heads con- 
tinually to stare into her face, and at the winking baby 
in her arms, and at the ignominious letter on her 
breast. It was no great distance, in those days, from 
the prison-door to the market-place. Measured by the 
prisoner's experience, however, it might be reckoned a 
journey of some length ; for, haughty as her demean- 
our was, she perchance underwent an agony from 
every footstep of those that thronged to see her, as if 
her heart had been flung into the street for them all to 
spurn and trample upon. In our nature, however, 
there is a provision, alike marvellous and merciful, that 
the sufferer should never know the intensity of what 
he endures by its present torture, but chiefly by the 
pang that rankles after it. With almost a serene de- 
portment, therefore, Hester Prynne passed through this 
portion of her ordeal, and came to a sort of scaffold, 
at the western extremity of the market-place. It stood 
nearly beneath the eaves of Boston's earliest church, 
and appeared to be a fixture there. 

In fact, this scaffold constituted a portion of a penal 
5 



I 
66 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

machine, which now, for two or three generations past, 
has been merely historical and traditionary among us, 
but was held, in the old time, to be as effectual an 
agent in the promotion of good citizenship, as ever was 
the guillotine among the terrorists of France. It was, 
in short, the platform of the pillory ; and abofe it rose 
the framework of that instrument of discipline, so fash- 
ioned as to confine the human head in its tight grasp, 
and thus hold it up to the public gaze. The very ideal 
of ignominy was embodied and made manifest in this 
contrivance of wood and iron. There can be no out- 
rage, methinks, against our common nature, — whatever 
be the delinquencies of the individual, — no outrage 
more flagrant than to forbid the culprit to hide his face 
for shame ; as it was the essence of this punishment to 
do. In Hester Prynne's instance, however, as not un- 
frequently in other cases, her sentence bore, that she 
should stand a certain time upon the platform, but with- 
out undergoing that gripe about the neck and confine- 
ment of the head, the proneness to which was the most 
devilish characteristic of this ugly engine. Knowing 
well her part, she ascended a flight of wooden steps, 
and was thus displayed to the surrounding multitude, at 
about the height of a man's shoulders above the street. 
Had there been a Papist among the crowd of Puri- 
tans, he might have seen in this beautiful woman, so 
picturesque in her attire and mien, and with the infant 
at her bosom, an object to remind him of the image of 
Divine Maternity, which so many illustrious painters 
have vied with one another to represent ; something 
which should remind him, indeed, but only by contrast, 



I 



THE MARKET-PLACE. 67 

of that sacred image of sinless motherhood, whose in- 
fant was to redeem the world. Here, there was the 
taint of deepest sin in the most sacred quality of human 
life, working such effect, that the world was only the 
darker for this woman's beauty, and the more lost for 
the infant that she had borne. 

The scene was not without a mixture of awe, such 
as must always invest the spectacle of guilt and shame 
in a fellow-creature, before society shall have grown 
corrupt enough to smile, instead of shuddering, at it. 
The witnesses of Hester Prynne's disgrace had not 
yet passed beyond their simplicity. They were stern 
enough to look upon her death, had that been the sen- 
tence, without a murmur at its severity, but had none 
of the heartlessness of another social state, which would 
find only a theme for jest in an exhibition like the pres- 
ent. Even had there been a disposition to turn the 
.matter into ridicule, it must have been repressed and 
overpowered by the solemn presence of men no less 
dignified than the Governor, and several of his counsel- 
lors, a judge, a general, and the ministers of the town ; 
all of whom sat or stood in a balcony of the meeting- 
house, looking down upon the platform. When such 
personages could constitute a part of the spectacle, 
without risking the majesty or reverence of rank and 
office, it was safely to be inferred that the infliction of 
a legal sentence would have an earnest and effectual 
meaning. Accordingly, the crowd was sombre and 
grave. The unhappy culprit sustained herself as best 
a woman might, under the heavy weight of a thou- 
sand unrelenting eyes, all fastened upon her, and 



68 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

concentred at her bosom. It was almost intolerable to 
be borne. Of an impulsive and passionate nature, she 
had fortified herself to encounter the stings and ven- 
omous stabs of public contumely, wreaking itself in 
every variety of insult; but there was a quality so 
much more terrible in the solemn mood of the popular 
mind, that she longed rather to behold all those rigid 
countenances contorted with scornful merriment, and 
herself the object. Had a roar of laughter burst from 
the multitude, — each man, each woman, each little 
shrill-voiced child, contributing their individual parts, — 
Hester Prynne might have repaid them all with a bitter 
and disdainful smile. But, under the leaden infliction 
which it was her doom to endure, she felt, at moments, 
as if she must needs shriek out with the full power of 
her lungs, and cast herself from the scaffold down upon 
the ground, or else go mad at once. 

Yet there were intervals when the whole scene, in 
which she was the most conspicuous object, seemed to 
vanish from her eyes, or, at least, glimmered indistinct- 
ly before them, like a mass of imperfectly shaped and 
spectral images. Her mind, and especially her memo- 
ry, was preternaturally active, and kept bringing up 
other scenes than this roughly hewn street of a little 
town, on the edge of the Western wilderness ; othei 
faces than were lowering upon her from beneath the 
brims of those steeple-crowned hats. Reminiscences, 
the most trifling and immaterial, passages of infancy 
and school-days, sports, childish quarrels, and the little 
domestic traits of her maiden years, came swarminj 
back upon her, intermingled with recollections of what- 



THE MARKET-PLACE. 69 

ever was gravest in her subsequent life ; one picture 
precisely as vivid as another ; as if all were of similar 
importance, or all alike a play. Possibly, it was an in- 
stinctive device of her spirit, to relieve itself, by the 
exhibition of these phantasmagoric forms, from the 
cruel weight and hardness of the reality. 

Be that as it might, the scaffold of the pillory was a 
point of view that revealed to Hester Prynne the entire 
track along which she had been treading, since her 
happy infancy. Standing on that miserable eminence, 
she saw again her native village, in Old England, and 
her paternal home ; a decayed house of gray stone, 
with a poverty-stricken aspect, but retaining a half- 
obliterated shield of arms over the portal, in token of 
antique gentility. She saw her father's face, with its 
bald brow, and reverend white beard, that flowed over 
the old-fashioned Elizabethan ruff; her mother's, too, 
with the look of heedful and anxious love which it al- 
ways wore in her remembrance, and which, even since 
her death, had so often laid the impediment of a gentle 
remonstrance in her daughter's pathway. She saw her 
own face, glowing with girlish beauty, and illuminating 
all the interior of the dusky mirror in which she had 
been wont to gaze at it. There she beheld another 
countenance, of a man well stricken in years, a pale, 
thin, scholar-like visage, with eyes dim and bleared by 
the lamp-light that had served them to pore over many 
ponderous books. Yet those same bleared optics had a 
strange, penetrating power, when it was their owner's 
purpose to read the human soul. This figure of the 
study and the cloister, as Hester Prynne's womanly 



70 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

fancy failed not to recall, was slightly deformed, with 
the left shoulder a trifle higher than the right. Next 
rose before her, in memory's picture-gallery, the intri- 
cate and narrow thoroughfares, the tall, gray houses, 
the huge cathedrals, and the public edifices, ancient in 
date and quaint in architecture, of a Continental city ; 
where a new life had awaited her, still in connection 
with the misshapen scholar ; a new life, but feeding 
itself on time-worn materials, like a tuft of green moss 
on a crumbling wall. Lastly, in lieu of these shifting 
scenes, came back the rude market-place of the Puri- 
tan settlement, with all the townspeople assembled and 
levelling their stern regards at Hester Prynne, — yes, at 
herself, — who stood on the scaffold of the pillory, an 
infant on her arm, and the letter A, in scarlet, fantas- 
tically embroidered with gold thread, upon her bosom ! 
Could it be true ? She clutched the child so fiercely 
to her breast, that it sent forth a cry ; she turned her 
eyes downward at the scarlet letter, and even touched 
it with her finger, to assure herself that the infant and 
the shame were real. Yes! — these were her realities, 
— all else had vanished ! 



THE RECOGNITION. 71 



III. 

THE RECOGNITION. 

From this intense consciousness of being the object 
of severe and universal observation, the wearer of the 
scarlet letter was at length relieved by discerning, on 
the outskirts of the crowd, a figure which irresistibly 
took possession of her thoughts. An Indian, in his 
native garb, was standing there ; but the red men were 
not so infrequent visitors of the English settlements, 
that one of them would have attracted any notice from 
Hester Prynne, at such a time ; much less would he 
.have excluded all other objects and ideas from her 
mind. By the Indian's side, and evidently sustaining a 
companionship with him, stood a white man, clad in a 
strange disarray of civilized and savage costume. 

He was small in stature, with a furrowed visage, 
which, as yet, could hardly be termed aged. There 
was a remarkable intelligence in his features, as of a 
person who had so cultivated his mental part that it 
could not fail to mould the physical to itself, and be- 
come manifest by unmistakable tokens. Although, by 
a seemingly careless arrangement of his heterogeneous 
garb, he had endeavoured to conceal or abate the pecu- 
liarity, it was sufficiently evident to Hester Prynne, that 
one of this man's shoulders rose higher than the other. 



72 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

Again, at the first instant of perceiving that thin visage, 
and the slight deformity of the figure, she pressed her 
infant to her bosom, with so convulsive a force that the 
poor babe uttered another cry of pain. But the mother 
did not seem to hear it. 

At his arrival in the market-place, and some time be- 
fore she saw him, the stranger had bent his eyes on 
Hester Prynne. It was carelessly, at first, like a man 
chiefly accustomed to look inward, and to whom ex- 
ternal matters are of little value and import, unless they 
bear relation to something within his mind. Very soon, 
however, his look became keen and penetrative. A 
writhing horror twisted itself across his features, like a 
snake gliding swiftly over them, and making one little 
pause, with all its wreathed intervolutions in open sight. 
His face darkened with some powerful emotion, which, 
nevertheless, he so instantaneously controlled by an 
effort of his will, that, save at a single moment, its ex- 
pression might have passed for calmness. After a 
brief space, the convulsion grew almost imperceptible, 
and finally subsided into the depths of his nature. 
When he found the eyes of Hester Prynne fastened 
on his own, and saw that she appeared to recognize 
him, he slowly and calmly raised his finger, made a 
gesture with it in the air, and laid it on his lips. 

Then, touching the shoulder of a townsman who 
stood next to him, he addressed him in a formal and 
courteous manner. 

" I pray you, good Sir," said he, " who is this 
woman? — and wherefore is she here set up to pub- 
lic shame ? " 



THE RECOGNITION. 73 

" You must needs be a stranger in this region, friend," 
answered the townsman, looking curiously at the ques- 
tioner and his savage companion ; " else you would 
surely have heard of Mistress Hester Prynne, and her 
evil doings. She hath raised a great scandal, I promise 
you, in godly Master Dimmesdale's church." 

" You say truly," replied the other. " I am a stran- 
ger, and have been a wanderer, sorely against my will. 
I have met with grievous mishaps by sea and land, and 
have been long held in bonds among the heathen-folk, 
to the southward ; and am now brought hither by this 
Indian, to be redeemed out of my captivity. Will it 
please you, therefore, to tell me of Hester Pry line's, 
— have I her name rightly ? — of this woman's offen- 
ces, and what has brought her to yonder scaffold ? " 

" Truly, friend, and methinks it must gladden your 
heart, after your troubles and sojourn in the wilder- 
ness," said the townsman, u to find yourself, at length, 
in a land where iniquity is searched out, and punished 
in the sight of rulers and people ; as here in our godly 
New England. Yonder woman, Sir, you must know, 
was the wife of a certain learned man, English by 
birth, but who had long dwelt in Amsterdam, whence, 
some good time agone, he was minded to cross over 
and cast in his lot with us of the Massachusetts. To 
this purpose, he sent his wife before him, remaining 
himself to look after some necessary affairs. Marry, 
good Sir, in some two years, or less, that the woman 
has been a dweller here in Boston, no tidings have 
come of this learned gentleman, Master Prynne ; and 
his young wife, look you, being left to her own mis- 
guidance " 



74 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

" Ah ! — aha ! — I conceive you," said the stranger, 
with a bitter smile. " So learned a man as you speak 
of should have learned this too in his books. And who, 
by your favor, Sir, may be the father of yonder babe 

— it is some three or four months old, I should judge 

— which Mistress Prynne is holding in her arms r " 

" Of a truth, friend, that matter remaineth a riddle ; 
and the Daniel who shall expound it is yet a-wanting," 
answered the townsman. " Madam Hester absolutely 
refuseth to speak, and the magistrates have laid their 
heads together in vain. Peradventure the guilty one 
stands looking on at this sad spectacle, unknown of 
man, and forgetting that God sees him.'" 

" The learned man," observed the stranger, with 
another smile, " should come himself to look into the 
mystery." 

" It behooves him well, if he be still in life," re- 
sponded the townsman. " Now, good Sir, our Massa- 
chusetts magistracy, bethinking themselves that this 
woman is youthful and fair, and doubtless was strongly 
temp.ted to her fall ; — and that, moreover, as is most 
likely, her husband may be at the bottom of the sea ; 

— they have not been bold to put in force the ex- 
tremity of our righteous law against her. The penalty 
thereof is death. But, in their great mercy and tender- 
ness of heart, they have doomed Mistress Prynne to 
stand only a space of three hours on the platform of the 
pillory, and then and thereafter, for the remainder of 
her natural life, to wear a mark of shame upon her 
bosom." 

11 A wise sentence ! " remarked the stranger, gravely 



THE RECOGNITION. 75 

bowing his head. " Thus she will be a living sermon 
against sin, until the ignominious letter be engraved 
upon her tombstone. It irks me, nevertheless, that the 
partner of her iniquity should not, at least, stand on 
the scaffold by her side. But he will be known ! — he 
will be known ! — he will be known ! " 

He bowed courteously to the communicative towns- 
man, and, whispering a few words to his Indian attend- 
ant, they both made their way through the crowd. 

While this passed, Hester Prynne had been standing 
on her pedestal, still with a fixed gaze towards the 
stranger ; so fixed a gaze, that, at moments of intense 
absorption, all other objects in the visible world seemed 
to vanish, leaving only him and her. Such an inter- 
view, perhaps, would have been more terrible than even 
to meet him as she now did, with the hot, midday sun 
burning down upon her face, and lighting up its shame ; 
-with the scarlet token of infamy on her breast ; with 
the sin-born infant in her arms ; with a whole people, 
drawn forth as to a festival, staring at the features that 
should have been seen only in the quiet gleam of the 
fireside, in the happy shadow of a home, or beneath 
a matronly veil, at church. Dreadful as it was, she 
was conscious of a shelter in the presence of these 
thousand witnesses. It was better to stand thus, with 
so many betwixt him and her, than to greet him, face 
to face, they two alone. She fled for refuge, as it were, 
to the public exposure, and dreaded the moment when 
its protection should be withdrawn from her. Involved 
in these thoughts, she scarcely heard a voice behind 
her, until it had repeated her name more than once, 



76 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

in a loud and solemn tone, audible to the whole 
multitude. 

" Hearken unto me, Hester Prynne ! " said the voice. 

It has already been noticed, that directly over the 
platform on which Hester Prynne stood was a kind of 
balcony, or open gallery, appended to the meeting- 
house. It was the place whence proclamations were 
wont to be made, amidst an assemblage of the magis- 
tracy, with all the ceremonial that attended such public 
observances in those days. Here, to witness the scene 
which we are describing, sat Governor Bellingham 
himself, with four sergeants about his chair, bearing 
halberds, as a guard of honor. He wore a dark feather 
in his hat, a border of embroidery on his cloak, and a 
black velvet tunic beneath ; a gentleman advanced in 
years, and with a hard experience written in his wrin- 
kles. Fie was not ill fitted to be the head and repre- 
sentative of a community, which owed its origin and 
progress, and its present state of development, not to 
the impulses of youth, but to the stern and tempered 
energies of manhood, and the sombre sagacity of age ; 
accomplishing so much, precisely because it imagined 
and hoped so little. The other eminent characters, by 
whom the chief ruler was surrounded, were distin- 
guished by a dignity of mien, belonging to a period 
when the forms of authority were felt to possess the 
sacredness of divine institutions. They were, doubt- 
less, good men, just, and sage. But, out of the whole 
human family, it would not have been easy to select 
the same number of wise and virtuous persons, who 
should be less capable of sitting in judgment on an 



THE RECOGNITION. 77 

erring woman's heart, and disentangling its mesh of 
good and evil, than the sages of rigid aspect towards 
whom Hester Prynne now turned her face. She 
seemed conscious, indeed, that whatever sympathy she 
might expect lay in the larger and warmer heart of the 
multitude ; for, as she lifted her eyes towards the bal- 
cony, the unhappy woman grew pale and trembled. 

The voice which had called her attention was that 
of the reverend and famous John Wilson, the eldest 
clergyman of Boston, a great scholar, like most of his 
contemporaries in the profession, and withal a man of 
kind and genial spirit. This last attribute, however, 
had been less carefully developed than his intellectual 
gifts, and was, in truth, rather a matter of shame than 
self-congratulation with him. There he stood, with a 
border of grizzled locks beneath his skull-cap ; while 
his gray eyes, accustomed to the shaded light of his 
Study, were winking, like those of Hester's infant, in 
the unadulterated sunshine. He looked like the darkly 
engraved portraits which we see prefixed to old volumes 
of sermons ; and had no more right than one of those 
portraits would have, to step forth, as he now did, and 
meddle with a question of human guilt, passion, and 
anguish. 

" Hester Prynne," said the clergyman, " I have striv- 
en with my young brother here, under whose preaching 
of the word you have been privileged to sit," — here 
Mr. Wilson laid his hand on the shoulder of a pale 
young man beside him, — "I have sought, I say, to 
persuade this godly youth, that he should deal with you, 
here in the face of Heaven, and before these wise and 



78 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

upright rulers, and in hearing of all the people, as 
touching the vileness and blackness of your sin. Know- 
ing your natural temper better than I, he could the 
better judge what arguments to use, whether of tender- 
ness or terror, such as might prevail over your hard- 
ness and obstinacy ; insomuch that you should no longer 
hide the name of him who tempted you to this grievous 
fall. But he opposes to me, (with a young man's over- 
softness, albeit wise beyond his years,) that it were 
wronging the very nature of woman to force her to 
lay open her heart's secrets in "such broad daylight, 
and in presence of so great a multitude. Truly, as I 
sought to convince him, the shame lay in the commis- 
sion of the sin, and not in the showing of it forth. 
What say you to it,- once again, brother Dimmesdale? 
Must it be thou or I that shall deal with this poor sin- 
ner's soul ? " 

There was a murmur among the dignified and rev- 
erend occupants of the balcony ; and Governor Bel- 
lingham gave expression to its purport, speaking in an 
authoritative voice, although tempered with respect 
towards the youthful clergyman whom he addressed. 

" Good Master Dimmesdale," said he, " the respon- 
sibility of this woman's soul lies greatly with you. It 
behooves you, therefore, to exhort her to repentance, 
and to confession, as a proof and consequence thereof." 

The directness of this appeal drew the eyes of the 
whole crowd upon the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale ; a 
young clergyman, who had come from one of the great 
English universities, bringing all the learning of the 
age into our wild forest-land. His eloquence and relig- 



THE RECOGNITION. 79 

ious fervor had already given the earnest of high emi- 
nence in his profession. He was a person of very- 
striking aspect, with a white, lofty, and impending 
brow, large, brown, melancholy eyes, and a mouth 
which, unless when he forcibly compressed it, was apt 
to be tremulous, expressing both nervous sensibility and 
a vast power of self-restraint. Notwithstanding his 
high native gifts and scholar-like attainments, there was 
an air about this young minister, — an apprehensive, 
a startled, a half-frightened look, — as of a being who 
felt himself quite astray and at a loss in the pathway of 
human existence, and could only be at ease in some 
seclusion of his own. Therefore, so far as his duties 
would permit, he trode in the shadowy by-paths, and 
thus kept himself simple and childlike ; coming forth, 
when occasion was, with a freshness, and fragrance, 
and dewy purity of thought, which, as many people 
said, affected them like the speech of an angel. 

Such was the young man whom the Reverend Mr. 
Wilson and the Governor had introduced so openly to 
the public notice, bidding him speak, in the hearing of 
all men, to that mystery of a woman's soul, so sacred 
even in its pollution. The trying nature of his position 
drove the blood from his cheek, and made his lips trem- 
ulous. 

" Speak to the woman, my brother," said Mr. Wil- 
son. " It is of moment to her soul, and therefore, as 
the worshipful Governor says, momentous to thine own, 
in whose charge hers is. Exhort her to confess the 
truth ! " 

The Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale bent his head, in 
silent prayer, as it seemed, and then came forward. 



80 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

" Hester Prynne," said he, leaning over the balcony, 
and looking down steadfastly into her eyes, " thou 
hearest what this good man says, and seest the ac- 
countability under which I labor. If thou feelest it to 
be for thy soul's peace, and that thy earthly punish- 
ment will thereby be made more effectual to salvation, 
I charge thee to speak out the name of thy fellow-sin- 
ner and fellow -sufferer ! Be not silent from any mis- 
taken pity and tenderness for him ; for, believe me, 
Hester, though he were to step down from a high place, 
and stand there beside thee, on thy pedestal of shame, 
yet better were it so, than to hide a guilty heart 
through life. What can thy silence do for him, except 
it tempt him — yea, compel him, as it were — to add 
hypocrisy to sin ? Heaven hath granted thee an open 
ignominy, that thereby thou mayest work out an open 
triumph over the evil within thee, and the sorrow with- 
out. Take heed how thou deniest to him — who, per- 
chance, hath not the courage to grasp it for himself — 
the bitter, but wholesome, cup that is now presented to 
thy lips ! " 

The young pastor's voice was tremulously sweet, 
rich, deep, and broken. The feeling that it so evi- 
dently manifested, rather than the direct purport of the 
words, caused it to vibrate within all hearts, and brought 
the listeners into one accord of sympathy. Even the 
poor baby, at Hester's bosom, was affected by the same 
influence ; for it directed its hitherto vacant gaze to- 
wards Mr. Dimmesdale, and held up its little arms, with 
a half pleased, half plaintive murmur. So powerful 
seemed the minister's appeal, that the people could not 



THE RECOGNITION. 81 

believe but that Hester Prynne would speak out the 
guilty name ; or else that the guilty one himself, in 
whatever high or lowly place he stood, would be drawn 
forth by an inward and inevitable necessity, and com- 
pelled to ascend the scaffold. 

Hester shook her head. 

" Woman, transgress not beyond the limits of Heav- 
en's mercy ! " cried the Reverend Mr. Wilson, more 
harshly than before. " That little babe hath been gifted 
with a voice, to second and confirm the counsel which 
thou hast heard. Speak out the name ! That, and thy 
repentance, may avail to take the scarlet letter off thy 
breast." 

" Never ! " replied Hester Prynne, looking, not at 
Mr. Wilson, but into the .deep and troubled eyes of the 
younger clergyman. " It is too deeply branded. Ye 
cannot take it off. And would that I might endure his 
agony, as well as mine ! " 

" Speak, woman ! " said another voice, coldly and 
sternly, proceeding from the crowd about the scaffold. 
" Speak ; and give your child a father ! " 

" I will not speak ! " answered Hester, turning pale 
as death, but responding to this voice, which she too 
surely recognized. " And my child must seek a heav- 
enly Father ; she shall never know an earthly one ! " 

" She will not speak! " murmured Mr. Dimmesdale, 
who, leaning over the balcony, with his hand upon his 
heart, had awaited the result of his appeal. He now 
drew back, with a long respiration. " Wondrous 
strength and generosity of a woman's heart! She 
will not speak ! " 
6 



fc&J THE SCARLET LETTER. 

Discerning the impracticable state of the poor cul- 
prit's mind, the elder clergyman, who had carefully- 
prepared himself for the occasion, addressed to the 
multitude a discourse on sin, in all its branches, but 
with continual reference to the ignominious letter. So 
forcibly did he dwell upon this symbol, for the hour or 
more during which his periods were rolling over the 
people's heads, that it assumed new terrors in their 
imagination, and seemed to derive its scarlet hue from 
the flames of the infernal pit. Hester Prynne, mean- 
while, kept her place upon the pedestal of shame, with 
glazed eyes, and an air of weary indifference. She 
had borne, that morning, all that nature could endure ; 
and as her temperament was not of the order that 
escapes from too intense suffering by a swoon, her 
spirit could only shelter itself beneath a stony crust of 
insensibility, while the faculties of animal life remained 
entire. In this state, the voice of the preacher thun- 
dered remorselessly, but unavailingly, upon her ears. 
The infant, during the latter portion of her ordeal, 
pierced the air with its wailings and screams ; she 
strove to hush it, mechanically, but seemed scarcely to 
sympathize with its trouble. With the same hard de- 
meanour, she was led back to prison, and vanished from 
the public gaze within its iron-clamped portal. It was 
whispered, by those who peered after her, that the 
scarlet letter threw a lurid gleam along the dark pas- 
sage-way of the interior. 



THE INTERVIEW. 83 



IV. 

THE INTERVIEW. 

After her return to the prison, Hester Prynne was 
found to be in a state of nervous excitement that de- 
manded constant watchfulness, lest she should perpe- 
trate violence on herself, or do some half-frenzied 
mischief to the poor babe. As night approached, it 
proving impossible to quell her insubordination by re- 
buke or threats of punishment, Master Brackett, the 
jailer, thought fit to introduce a physician. He de- 
scribed him as a man of skill in all Christian modes of 
physical science, and likewise familiar with whatever 
the savage people could teach, in respect to medicinal 
herbs and roots that grew in the forest. To say the 
truth, there was much need of professional assistance, 
not merely for Hester herself, but still more urgently 
for the child ; who, drawing its sustenance from the 
maternal bosom, seemed to have drank in with it all 
the turmoil, the anguish, and despair, which pervaded 
the mother's system. It now writhed in convulsions of 
pain, and was a forcible type, in its little frame, of the 
moral agony which Hester Prynne had borne through- 
out the day. 

Closely following the jailer into the dismal apartment, 
appeared that individual, of singular aspect, whose 



84 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

presence in the crowd had been of such deep interest 
to the wearer of the scarlet letter. He was lodged in 
the prison, not as suspected of any offence, but as the 
most convenient and suitable mode of disposing of him, 
until the magistrates should have conferred with the 
Indian sagamores respecting his ransom. His name 
was announced as Roger Chillingworth. The jailer, 
after ushering him into the room, remained a moment, 
marvelling at the comparative quiet that followed his 
entrance ; for Hester Prynne had immediately become 
as still as death, although the child continued to moan. 

" Prithee, friend, leave me alone with my patient," 
said the practitioner. " Trust me, good jailer, you 
shall briefly have peace in your house ; and, I promise 
you, Mistress Prynne shall hereafter be more amenable 
to just authority than you may have found her here- 
tofore." 

" Nay, if your worship can accomplish that," an- 
swered Master Brackett, " I shall own you for a man of 
skill indeed ! Verily, the woman hath been like a 
possessed one ; and there lacks little, that I should take 
in hand to drive Satan out of her with stripes." 

The stranger had entered the room with the charac- 
teristic quietude of the profession to which he an- 
nounced himself as belonging. Nor did his demeanour 
change, when the withdrawal of the prison-keeper left 
him face to face with the woman, whose absorbed no- 
tice of him, in the crowd, had intimated so close a 
relation between himself and her. His first care was 
given to the child ; whose cries, indeed, as she lay 
writhing on the trundle-bed, made it of peremptory 






THE INTERVIEW. 85 

necessity to postpone all other business to the task of 
soothing her. He examined the infant carefully, and 
then proceeded to unclasp a leathern case, which he 
took from beneath his dress. It appeared to contain 
certain medical preparations, one of which he mingled 
with a cup of water. 

" My old studies in alchemy," observed he, " and 
my sojourn, for above a year past, among a people well 
versed in the kindly properties of simples, have made 
a better physician of me than many that claim the 
medical degree. Here, woman ! The child is yours, 
— she is none of mine, — neither will she recognize 
my voice or aspect as a father's. Administer this 
draught, therefore, with thine own hand." 

Hester repelled the offered medicine, at the same 
time gazing with strongly marked apprehension into his 
face. 

." Wouldst thou avenge thyself on the innocent 
babe ? " whispered she. 

" Foolish woman ! " responded the physician, half 
coldly, half soothingly. " What should ail me to harm 
this misbegotten and miserable babe ? The medicine 
is potent for good ; and were it my child, — yea, mine 
own, as well as thine ! — I could do no better for it." 

As she still hesitated, being, in fact, in no reasonable 
state of mind, he took the infant in his arms, and him- 
self administered the draught. It soon proved its effi- 
cacy, and redeemed the leech's pledge. The moans 
of the little patient subsided ; its convulsive tossings 
gradually ceased ; and in a few moments, as is the 
custom of young children after relief from pain, it 



SO THE SCARLET LETTER. 

sank into a profound and dewy slumber. The physi- 
cian, as he had a fair right to be termed, next bestowed 
his attention on the mother. With calm and intent 
scrutiny, he felt her pulse, looked into her eyes, — a 
gaze that made her heart shrink and shudder, because 
so familiar, and yet so strange and cold, — and, finally, 
satisfied with his investigation, proceeded to mingle 
another draught. 

" I know not Lethe nor Nepenthe," remarked he ; 
" but I have learned many new secrets in the wilder- 
ness, and here is one of them, — a recipe that an Indian 
taught me, in requital of some lessons of my own, that 
were as old as Paracelsus. Drink it ! It may be less 
soothing than a sinless conscience. That I cannot give 
thee. But it will calm the swell and heaving of thy 
passion, like oil thrown on the waves of a tempestuous 
sea." 

He presented the cup to Hester, who received it with 
a slow, earnest look into his face ; not precisely a look 
of fear, yet full of doubt and questioning, as to what 
his purposes might be. She looked also at her slum- 
bering child. 

" I have thought of death," said she, — " have wished 
for it, — would even have prayed for it, were it fit that 
such as I should pray for any thing. Yet, if death be 
in this cup, I bid thee think again, ere thou beholdest 
me quaff it. See ! It is even now at my lips." 

" Drink, then," replied he, still with the same cold 
composure. "Dost thou know me so little, Hester 
Prynne ? Are my purposes wont to be so shallow ? 
Even if I imagine a scheme of vengeance, what could 



THE INTERVIEW. 87 

I do better for my object than to let thee live, — than 
to give thee medicines against all harm and peril of life, 

— so that this burning shame may still blaze upon thy 
bosom ? " — As he spoke, he laid his long forefinger 
on the scarlet letter, which forthwith seemed to scorch 
into Hester's breast, as if it had been red-hot. He no- 
ticed her involuntary gesture, and smiled. — "Live, 
therefore, and bear about thy doom with thee, in the 
eyes of men and women, — in the eyes of him whom 
thou didst call thy husband, — in the eyes of yonder 
child ! And, that thou mayest live, take off this 
draught." 

Without further expostulation or delay, Hester 
Prynne drained the cup, and, at the motion of the man 
of skill, seated herself on the bed where the child was 
sleeping ; while he drew the only chair which the room 
afforded, and took his own seat beside her. She could 
ruot but tremble at these preparations ; for she felt that 

— having now done all that humanity, or principle, or, 
if so it were, a refined cruelty, impelled him to do, for 
the relief of physical suffering — he was next to treat 
with her as the man whom she had most deeply and 
irreparably injured. 

" Hester," said he, " T ask not wherefore, nor how, 
thou hast fallen into the pit, or say rather, thou hast 
ascended to the pedestal of infamy, on which I found 
thee. The reason is not far to seek. It was my folly, 
and thy weakness. I, — a man of thought, — the book- 
worm of great libraries, — a man already in decay, 
having given my best years to feed the hungry dream 
of knowledge, — what had I to do with youth and 



88 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 



beauty like thine own ! Misshapen from my birth-hour, 
how could I delude myself with the idea that intellectu- 
al gifts might veil physical deformity in a young girl's 
fantasy ! Men call me wise. If sages were ever wise 
in their own behoof, I might have foreseen all this. I 
might have, known that, as I came out of the vast and 
dismal forest, and entered this settlement of Christian 
men, the very first object to meet my eyes would be 
thyself, Hester Prynne, standing up, a statue of igno- 
miny, before the people. Nay, from the moment when 
we came down the old church-steps together, a married 
pair, I might have beheld the bale-fire of that scarlet 
letter blazing at the end of our path ! " 

" Thou knowest," said Hester, — for, depressed as 
she was, she could not endure this last quiet stab at the 
token of her shame, — " thou knowest that I was frank 
with thee. I felt no love, nor feigned any." 

" True ! " replied he. " It was my folly ! I have 
said it. But, up to that epoch of my life, I had lived 
in vain. The world had been so cheerless ! My heart 
was a habitation large enough for many guests, but 
lonely and chill, and without a household fire. I longed 
to kindle one ! It seemed not so wild a dream, — old 
as I was, and sombre as I was, and misshapen as I was, 
— that the simple bliss, which is scattered far and 
wide, for all mankind to gather up, might yet be mine. 
And so, Hester, I drew thee into my heart, into its 
innermost chamber, and sought to warm thee by the 
warmth which thy presence made there ! " 

" I have greatly wronged thee," murmured Hester. 

" We have wronged each other," answered he. 



THE INTERVIEW. 89 

P Mine was the first wrong, when I betrayed thy bud- 
ding youth into a false and unnatural relation with my 
decay. Therefore, as a man who has not thought and 
philosophized in vain, I seek no vengeance, plot no 
evil against thee. Between thee and me, the scale 
hangs fairly balanced. But, Hester, the man lives who 
has wronged us both ! Who is he ? " 

" Ask me not ! " replied Hester Prynne, looking 
firmly into his face. " That thou shalt never know ! " 

" Never, sayest thou ? " rejoined he, with a smile of 
dark and self-relying intelligence. " Never know him ! 
Believe me, Hester, there are few things, — whether in 
the outward world, or, to a certain depth, in the invisi- 
ble sphere of thought, — few things hidden from the 
man, who devotes himself earnestly and unreservedly 
to the solution of a mystery. Thou mayest cover up 
thy secret from the prying multitude. Thou mayest 
conceal it, too, from the ministers and magistrates, 
even as thou didst this day, when they sought to wrench 
the name out of thy heart, and give thee a partner on 
thy pedestal. But, as for me, I come to the inquest 
with other senses than they possess. I shall seek 
this man, as I have sought truth in books ; as I have 
sought gold in alchemy. There is a sympathy that 
will make me conscious of him. I shall see him trem- 
ble. I shall feel myself shudder, suddenly and una- 
wares. Sooner or later, he must needs be mine ! " 

The eyes of the wrinkled scholar glowed so intensely 
upon her, that Hester Prynne clasped her hands over 
her heart, dreading lest he should read the secret there 
at once. 



90 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

" Thou wilt not reveal bis name ? Not the less he 
is mine," resumed he, with a look of confidence, as if 
destiny were at one with him. " He bears no letter of 
infamy wrought into his garment, as thou dost ; but I 
shall read it on his heart. Yet fear not for him ! 
Think not that I shall interfere with Heaven's own 
method of retribution, or, to my own loss, betray him 
to the gripe of human law. Neither do thou imagine 
that I shall contrive aught against his life, no, nor 
against his fame ; if, as I judge, he be a man of fair 
repute. Let him live ! Let him hide himself in out- 
ward honor, if he may ! Not the less he shall be 
mine ! " 

" Thy acts are like mercy," said Hester, bewildered 
and appalled. " But thy words interpret thee as a 
terror ! " 

" One thing, thou that wast my wife, I would enjoin 
upon thee," continued the scholar. " Thou hast kept 
the secret of thy paramour. Keep, likewise, mine ! 
There are none in this land that know me. Breathe 
not, to any human soul, that thou didst ever call me 
husband ! Here, on this wild outskirt of the earth, I 
shall pitch my tent; for, elsewhere a wanderer, and 
isolated from human interests, I find here a woman, a 
man, a child, amongst whom and myself there exist 
the closest ligaments. No matter whether of love or 
hate ; no matter whether of right or wrong ! Thou 
and thine, Hester Prynne, belong to me. My home 
is where thou art, and where he is. But betray me 
not ! " 

" Wherefore dost thou desire it ? " inquired Hester, 



THE INTERVIEW. 91 

shrinking, she hardly knew why, from this secret bond. 
I Why not announce thyself openly, and cast me off 
at once ? " 

" It may be," he replied, " because I will not en- 
counter the dishonor that besmirches the husband of a 
faithless woman. It may be for other reasons. Enough, 
it is my purpose to live and die unknown. Let, there- 
fore, thy husband be to the world as one already dead, 
and of whom no tidings shall ever come. Recognize 
me not, by word, by sign, by look ! Breathe not the 
secret, above all, to the man thou wottest of. Shouldst 
thou fail me in this, beware ! His fame, his position, 
his life, will be in my hands. Beware ! " 

" I will keep thy secret, as I have his," said Hester. 

M Swear it ! " rejoined he. 

And she took the oath. 

" And now, Mistress Prynne," said old Roger Chil- 
lingworth, as he was hereafter to be named, " I leave 
thee alone ; alone with thy infant, and the scarlet let- 
ter ! How is it, Hester ? Doth thy sentence bind thee 
to wear the token in thy sleep ? Art thou not afraid of 
nightmares and hideous dreams ? " 

" Why dost thou smile so at me ? " inquired Hester, 
troubled at the expression of his eyes. " Art thou like 
the Black Man that haunts the forest round about us ? 
Hast thou enticed me into a bond that will prove the 
ruin of my soul ? " 

" Not thy soul," he answered, with another smile. 
" No, not thine ! " 



92 THE SCARLET LETTER. 



V. 

HESTER AT HER NEEDLE. 

Hester Prynne's term of confinement was now at 
an end. Her prison-door was thrown open, and she 
came forth into the sunshine, which, falling on all alike, 
seemed, to her sick and morbid heart, as if meant for 
no other purpose than to reveal the scarlet letter on her 
breast. Perhaps there was a more real torture in her 
first unattended footsteps from the threshold of the pris- 
on, than even in the procession and spectacle that have 
been described, where she was made the common in- 
famy, at which all mankind was summoned to point its 
finger. Then, she was supported by an unnatural 
tension of the nerves, and by all the combative energy 
of her character, which enabled her to convert the 
scene into a kind of lurid triumph. It was, moreover, 
a separate and insulated event, to occur but once in her 
lifetime, and to meet which, therefore, reckless of 
economy, she might call up the vital strength that 
would have sufficed for many quiet years. The very 
law that condemned her — a giant of stern features, 
but with vigor to support, as well as to annihilate, in 
his iron arm — had held her up, through the terrible 
ordeal of her ignominy. But now, with this unattend- 
ed walk from her prison-door, began the daily custom, 



HESTER AT HER NEEDLE. 93 

and she must either sustain and carry it forward by the 
ordinary resources of her nature, or sink beneath it. 
She could no longer borrow from the future, to help 
her through the present grief. To-morrow would bring 
its own trial with it ; so would the next day, and so 
would the next ; each its own trial, and yet the very 
same that was now so unutterably grievous to be borne. 
The days of the far-off future would toil onward, still 
with the same burden for her to take up, and bear 
along with her, but never to fling down ; for the ac- 
cumulating days, and added years, would pile up their 
misery upon the heap of shame. Throughout them 
all, giving up her individuality, she would become the 
general symbol at which the preacher and moralist 
might point, and in which they might vivify and em- 
body their images of woman's frailty and sinful passion. 
Thus the young and pure would be taught to look at 
her, with the scarlet letter flaming on her breast, — at 
her, the child of honorable parents, — at her, the 
mother of a babe, that would hereafter be a woman, — 
at her, who had once been innocent, — as the figure, 
the body, the reality of sin. And over her grave, the 
infamy that she must carry thither would be her only 
monument. 

It may seem marvellous, that, with the world before 
her, — kept by no restrictive clause of her condemna- 
tion within the limits of the Puritan settlement, so re- 
mote and so obscure, — free to return to her birth- 
place, or to any other European land, and there hide 
her character and identity under a new exterior, as 
completely as if emerging into another state of being, — 



94 THE SCARLET LETTER. 



and having also the passes of the dark, inscrutable 
forest open to her, where the wildness of her nature 
might assimilate itself with a people whose customs 
and life were alien from the law that had condemned 
her, — it may seem marvellous, that this woman should 
still call that place her home, where, and where only, 
she must needs be the type of shame. But there is a 
fatality, a feeling so irresistible and inevitable that it 
has the force of doom, which almost invariably com- 
pels human beings to linger around and haunt, ghost- 
like, the spot where some great and marked event 
has given the color to their lifetime ; and still the more 
irresistibly, the darker the tinge that saddens it. Her 
sin, her ignominy, were the roots which she had struck 
into the soil. It was as if a new birth, with stronger 
assimilations than the first, had converted the forest- 
land, still so uncongenial to every other pilgrim and 
wanderer, into Hester Prynne's wild and dreary, but* 
life-long home. All other scenes of earth — even that 
village of rural England, where happy infancy and 
stainless maidenhood seemed yet to be in her mother's 
keeping, like garments put off long ago — were foreign 
to her, in comparison. The chain that bound her | 
here was of iron links, and galling to her inmost soul, 
but never could be broken. 

It might be, too, — doubtless it was so, although she 
hid the secret from herself, and grew pale whenever it 
struggled out of her heart, like a serpent from its hole, 
— it might be that another feeling kept her within the 
scene and pathway that had been so fatal. There 
dwelt, there trode the feet of one with whom she 



HESTER AT HER NEEDLE. 95 

deemed herself connected in a union, that, unrecog- 
nized on earth, would bring them together before the 
bar of final judgment, and make that their marriage- 
altar, for a joint futurity of endless retribution. Over 
and over again, the tempter of souls had thrust this 
idea upon Hester's contemplation, and laughed at the 
passionate and desperate joy with which she seized, and 
then strove to cast it from her. She barely looked the 
idea in the face, and hastened to bar it in its dungeon. 
What she compelled herself to believe, — what, finally, 
she reasoned upon, as her motive for continuing a resi- 
dent of New England, — was half a truth, and half a 
self-delusion. Here, she said to herself, had been the 
scene of her guilt, and here should be the scene of her 
earthly punishment ; and so, perchance, the torture of 
her daily shame would at length purge her soul, and 
work out another purity than that which she had lost ; 
more sainl-like, because the result of martyrdom. 

Hester Prynne, therefore, did not flee. On the out- 
skirts of the town, within the verge of the peninsula, 
but not in close vicinity to any other habitation, there 
was a small thatched cottage. It had been built by an 
earlier settler, and abandoned, because the soil about 
it* was too sterile for cultivation, while its comparative 
remoteness put it out of the sphere of that social activ- 
ity which already marked the habits of the emigrants. 
It stood on the shore, looking across a basin of the 
sea at the forest-covered hills, towards the, west. A 
clump of scrubby trees, such as alone grew on the 
peninsula, did not so much conceal the cottage from 
view, as seem to denote that here was some object 



98 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

which would fain have been, or at least ought to be, 
concealed. In this little, lonesome dwelling, with some 
slender means that she possessed, and by the license of 
the magistrates, who still kept an inquisitorial watch 
over her, Hester established herself, with her infant 
child. A mystic shadow of suspicion immediately at- 
tached itself to the spot. Children, too young to com- 
prehend wherefore this woman should be shut out from 
the sphere of human charities, would creep nigh enough 
to behold her plying her needle at the cottage-window, 
or standing in the door-way, or laboring in her little 
garden, or coming forth along the pathway that led 
townward ; and, discerning the scarlet letter on her 
breast, would scamper off, with a strange, contagious 
fear. 

Lonely as was Hester's situation, and without a friend 
on earth who dared to show himself, she, however, in- 
curred no risk of want. She possessed an art that suf- 
ficed, even in a land that afforded comparatively little 
scope for its exercise, to supply food for her thriving in- 
fant and herself. It was the art — then, as now, almost 
the only one within a woman's grasp — of needle-work. 
She bore on her breast, in the curiously embroidered 
letter, a specimen of her delicate and imaginative skill, 
of which the dames of a court might gladly have 
availed themselves, to add the richer and more spiritual 
adornment of human ingenuity to their fabrics of silk 
and gold. Here, indeed, in the sable simplicity that 
generally characterized the Puritanic modes of dress, 
there might be an infrequent call for the finer produc- 
tions of her handiwork. Yet the taste of the age, de- 



HESTER AT HER NEEDLE. 97 

manding whatever was elaborate in compositions of 
this kind, did not fail to extend its influence over our 
stern progenitors, who had cast behind them so many- 
fashions which it might seem harder to dispense with. 
Public ceremonies, such as ordinations, the installation 
of magistrates, and all that could give majesty to the 
forms in which a new government manifested itself to 
the people, were, as a matter of policy, marked by a 
stately and well-conducted ceremonial, and a sombre, 
but yet a studied magnificence. Deep ruffs, painfully 
wrought bands, and gorgeously embroidered gloves, 
were all deemed necessary to the official state of men 
assuming the reins of power ; and were readily al- 
lowed to individuals dignified by rank or wealth, even 
while sumptuary laws forbade these and similar ex- 
travagances to the plebeian order. In the array of 
funerals, too, — whether for the apparel of the dead 
body, or to typify, by manifold emblematic devices of 
sable cloth and snowy lawn, the sorrow of the sur- 
vivors, — there was a frequent and characteristic de- 
mand for such labor as Hester Prynne could supply. 
Baby-linen — for babies then wore robes of state — 
afforded still another possibility of toil and emolument. 
By degrees, nor very slowly, her handiwork became 
what would now be termed the fashion. Whether 
from commiseration for a woman of so miserable a 
destiny ; or from the morbid curiosity that gives a 
fictitious value even to common or worthless things ; or 
by whatever other intangible circumstance was then, 
as now, sufficient to bestow, on some persons, what 
others might seek in vain; or because Hester really 
7 



98 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

filled a gap which must otherwise have remained va- 
cant ; it is certain that she had ready and fairly requited 
employment for as many hours as she saw fit to occupy 
with her needle. Vanity, it may be, chose to mortify 
itself, by putting on, for ceremonials of pomp and state, 
the garments that had been wrought by her sinful hands. 
Her needle-work was seen on the ruff of the Governor ; 
military men wore it on their scarfs, and the minister 
on his band ; it decked the baby's little cap ; it was 
shut up, to be mildewed and moulder away, in the 
coffins of the dead. But it is not recorded that, in a 
single instance, her skill was called in aid to embroider 
the white veil which was to cover the pure blushes of 
a bride. The exception indicated the ever relentless 
vigor with which society frowned upon her sin. 

Hester sought not to acquire any thing beyond a 
subsistence, of the plainest and most ascetic description, 
for herself, and a simple abundance for her child. Her 
own dress was of the coarsest materials and the most 
sombre hue ; with only that one ornament, — the scar- 
let letter, — which it was her doom to wear. The 
child's attire, on the other hand, was distinguished by 
a fanciful, or, we might rather say, a fantastic ingenuity, 
which served, indeed, to heighten the airy charm that 
early began to develop itself in the little girl, but which 
appeared to have also a deeper meaning. We may 
speak further of it hereafter. Except for that small 
expenditure in the decoration of her infant, Hester be- 
stowed all her superfluous means in charity, on wretch- 
es less miserable than herself, and who not unfrequently 
insulted the hand that fed them. Much of the time, 



HESTER AT HER NEEDLE. 99 

which she might readily have applied to the better 
efforts of her art, she employed in making coarse gar- 
ments for the poor. It is probable that there was an 
idea of penance in this mode of occupation, and that 
she offered up a real sacrifice of enjoyment, in devoting 
so many hours to such rude handiwork. She had in her 
nature a rich, voluptuous, Oriental characteristic, — a 
taste for the gorgeously beautiful, which, save in the 
exquisite productions of her needle, found nothing else, 
in all the possibilities of her life, to exercise itself upon. 
Women derive a pleasure, incomprehensible to the other 
sex, from the delicate toil of the needle. To Hester 
Prynne it might have been a mode of expressing, and 
therefore soothing, the passion of her life. Like all 
other joys, she rejected it as sin. This morbid med- 
dling of conscience with an immaterial matter be- 
tokened, it is to be feared, no genuine and stedfast 
penitence, but something doubtful, something that might 
be deeply wrong, beneath. 

In this manner, Hester Prynne came to have a part 
to perform in the world. With her native energy of 
character, and rare capacity, it could not entirely cast 
her off, although it had set a mark upon her, more in- 
tolerable to a woman's heart than that which branded 
the brow of Cain. In all her intercourse with society, 
however, there was nothing that made her feel as if she 
belonged to it. Every gesture, every word, and even 
the silence of those with whom she came in contact, 
implied, and often expressed, that she was banished, 
and as much alone as if she inhabited another sphere, 
or communicated with the common nature by other 



100 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

organs and senses than the rest of human kind. She 
stood apart from mortal interests, yet close beside them, 
like a ghost that revisits the familiar fireside, and can 
no longer make itself seen or felt ; no more smile with 
the household joy, nor mourn with the kindred sorrow ; 
or, should it succeed in manifesting its forbidden sym- 
pathy, awakening only terror and horrible repugnance. 
These emotions, in fact, and its bitterest scorn besides, 
seemed to be the sole portion that she retained in the 
universal heart. It was not an age of delicacy ; and 
her position, although she understood it well, and was 
in little danger of forgetting it, was often brought be- 
fore her vivid self-perception, like a new anguish, by 
the rudest touch upon the tenderest spot. The poor, as 
we have already said, whom she sought out to be the 
objects of her bounty, often reviled the hand that was 
stretched forth to succor them. Dames of elevated 
rank, likewise, whose doors she entered in the way of 
her occupation, were accustomed to distil drops of bit- 
terness into her heart ; sometimes through that alchemy 
of quiet malice, by which women can concoct a subtile 
poison from ordinary trifles ; and sometimes, also, by a 
coarser expression, that fell upon the sufferer's de- 
fenceless breast like a rough blow upon an ulcerated 
wound. Hester had schooled herself long and well; 
she never responded to these attacks, save by a flush 
of crimson that rose irrepressibly over her pale cheek, 
and again subsided into the depths of her bosom. She 
was patient, — a martyr, indeed, — but she forbore 
to pray for her enemies ; lest, in spite of her forgiving 
aspirations, the words of the blessing should stubbornly 
twist themselves into a curse. 






HESTER AT HER NEEDLE. 101 

Continually, and in a thousand other ways, did she 
feel the innumerable throbs of anguish that had been 
so cunningly contrived for her by the undying, the 
ever-active sentence of the Puritan tribunal. Clergy- 
men paused in the street to address words of exhorta- 
tion, that brought a crowd, with its mingled grin and 
frown, around the poor, sinful woman. If she entered 
a church, trusting to share the Sabbath smile of the 
Universal Father, it was often her mishap to find her- 
self the text of the discourse. She grew to have a 
dread of children ; for they had imbibed from their par- 
ents a vague idea of something horrible in this dreary 
woman, gliding silently through the town, with never 
any companion but one only child. Therefore, first 
allowing her to pass, they pursued her at a distance 
with shrill cries, and the utterance of a word that had 
no distinct purport to their own minds, but was none 
the less terrible to her, as proceeding from lips that 
babbled it unconsciously. It seemed to argue so wide 
a diffusion of her shame, that all nature knew of it ; it 
could have caused her no deeper pang, had the leaves 
of the trees whispered the dark story among them- 
selves, — had the summer breeze murmured about it, 

— had the wintry blast shrieked it aloud ! Another 
peculiar torture was felt in the gaze of a new eye. 
When strangers looked curiously at the scarlet letter, 

— and none ever failed to do so, — they branded it 
afresh into Hester's soul ; so that, oftentimes, she could 
scarcely refrain, yet always did refrain, from covering 
the symbol with her hand. But then, again, an accus- 
tomed eye had likewise its own anguish to inflict. Its 



102 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

cool stare of familiarity was intolerable. From first to 
last, in short, Hester Prynne had always this dreadful 
agony in feeling a human eye upon the token ; the spot 
never grew callous ; it seemed, on the contrary, to 
grow more sensitive with daily torture. 

But sometimes, once in many days, or perchance in 
many months, she felt an eye — a human eye — upon 
the ignominious brand, that seemed to give a momen- 
tary relief, as if half of her agony were shared. The 
next instant, back it all rushed again, with still a deeper 
throb of pain ; for, in that brief interval, she had sin- 
ned anew. Had Hester sinned alone ? 

Her imagination was somewhat affected, and, had 
she been of a softer moral and intellectual fibre, would 
have been still more so, by the strange and solitary 
anguish of her life. Walking to and fro, with those 
lonely footsteps, in the little world with which she was 
outwardly connected, it now and then appeared to Hes- 
ter, — if altogether fancy, it was nevertheless too potent 
to be resisted, — she felt or fancied, then, that the 
scarlet letter had endowed her with a new sense. She 
shuddered tobelieve, yet could not help believing, that 
it gave her a sympathetic knowledge of the hidden sin 
in other hearts. She was terror-stricken by the revela- 
tions that were thus made. What were they ? Could 
they be other than the insidious whispers of the bad 
angel, who would fain have persuaded the struggling 
woman, as yet only half his victim, that the outward 
guise of purity was but a lie, and that, if truth were 
everywhere to be shown, a scarlet letter would blaze 
forth on many a bosom besides Hester Prynne 's ? Or, 



HESTER AT HER NEEDLE. 103 

must she receive those intimations — so obscure, yet so 
distinct — as truth? In all her miserable experience, 
there was nothing else so awful and so loathsome as 
this sense. It perplexed, as well as shocked her, by 
the irreverent inopportuneness of the occasions that 
brought it into vivid action. Sometimes, the red infamy 
upon her breast would give a sympathetic throb, as she 
passed near a venerable minister or magistrate, the 
model of piety and justice, to whom that age of antique 
reverence looked up, as to a mortal man in fellowship 
with angels. " What evil thing is at hand ? " would 
Hester say to herself. Lifting her reluctant eyes, there 
would be nothing human within the scope of view, save 
the form of this earthly saint ! Again, a mystic sister- 
hood would contumaciously assert itself, as she met the 
sanctified frown of some matron, who, according to the 
rumor of all tongues, had kept cold snow within her 
bosom throughout life. That unsunned snow in the 
matron's bosom, and the burning shame on Hester 
Prynne's, — what had the two in common ? Or, once 
more, the electric thrill would give her warning, — 
I Behold, Hester, here is a companion ! " — and, look- 
ing up, she would detect the eyes of a young maiden 
glancing at the scarlet letter, shyly and aside, and 
quickly averted, with a faint, chill crimson in her 
cheeks ; as if her purity were somewhat sullied by that 
momentary glance. O Fiend, whose talisman was 
that fatal symbol, wouldst thou leave nothing, whether 
in youth or age, for this poor sinner to revere ? — Such 
loss of faith is ever one of the saddest results of sin. 
Be it accepted as a proof that all was not corrupt in this 



104 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

poor victim of her own frailty, and man's hard law, 
that Hester Prynne yet struggled to believe that no fel- 
low-mortal was guilty like herself. 

The vulgar, who, in those dreary old times, were 
always contributing a grotesque horror to what inter- 
ested their imaginations, had a story about the scarlet 
letter which we might readily work up into a terrific 
legend. They averred, that the symbol was not mere 
scarlet cloth, tinged in an earthly dye-pot, but was red- 
hot with infernal fire, and could be seen glowing all 
alight, whenever Hester Prynne walked abroad in the 
night-time. And we must needs say, it seared Hes- 
ter's bosom so deeply, that perhaps there was more 
truth in the rumor than our modern incredulity may be 
inclined to admit. 



PEARL. 105 



VI. 

PEARL. 

We have as yet hardly spoken of the infant; that 
little creature, whose innocent life had sprung, by the 
inscrutable decree of Providence, a lovely and immor- 
tal flower, out of the rank luxuriance of a guilty pas- 
sion. How strange it seemed to the sad woman, as she 
watched the growth, and the beauty that became every 
day more brilliant, and the intelligence that threw its 
quivering sunshine over the tiny features of this child ! 
Her Pearl ! — For so had Hester called her ; not as a 
name expressive of her aspect, which had nothing of 
the calm, white, unimpassioned lustre that would be 
indicated by the comparison. But she named the in- 
fant " Pearl," as being of great price, — purchased 
with all she had, — her mother's only treasure ! How 
strange, indeed ! Man had marked this woman's sin 
by a scarlet letter, which had such potent and disastrous 
efficacy that no human sympathy could reach her, save 
it were sinful like herself. God, as a direct conse- 
quence of the sin which man thus punished, had given 
her a lovely child, whose place was on that same dis- 
honored bosom, to connect her parent for ever with the 
race and descent of mortals, and to be finally a blessed 
soul in heaven ! Yet these thoughts affected Hester 



106 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

Prynne less with hope than apprehension. She knew 
that her deed had been evil ; she could have no faith, 
therefore, that its result would be for good. Day after 
day, she looked fearfully into the child's expanding 
nature ; ever dreading to detect some dark and wild 
peculiarity, that should correspond with the guiltiness 
to which she owed her being. 

Certainly, there was no physical defect. By its per- 
fect shape, its vigor, and its natural dexterity in the use 
of all its untried limbs, the infant was worthy to 
have been brought forth in Eden ; worthy to have been 
left there, to be the plaything of the angels, after the 
world's first parents were driven out. The child had a 
native grace which does not invariably coexist with 
faultless beauty ; its attire, however simple, always im- 
pressed the beholder as if it were the very garb that 
precisely became it best. But little Pearl was not clad 
in rustic weeds. Her mother, with a morbid purpose 
that may be better understood hereafter, had bought 
the richest tissues that could be procured, and allowed 
her imaginative faculty its full play in the arrangement 
and decoration of the dresses which the child wore, 
before the public eye. So magnificent was the small 
figure, when thus arrayed, and such was the splendor 
of Pearl's own proper beauty, shining through the 
gorgeous robes which might have extinguished a paler 
loveliness, that there was an absolute circle of radiance 
around her, on the darksome cottage-floor. And yet 
a russet gown, torn and soiled with the child's rude 
play, made a picture of her just as perfect. Pearl's 
aspect was imbued with a spell of infinite variety ; in 



PEARL. 107 

this one child there were many children, comprehending 
the full scope between the wild-flower prettiness of a 
peasant-baby, and the pomp, in little, of an infant 
princess. Throughout all, however, there was a trait 
of passion, a certain depth of hue, which she never 
lost; and if, in any of her changes, she had grown 
fainter or paler, she would have ceased to be herself; 
— it would have been no longer Pearl ! 

This outward mutability indicated, and did not more 
than fairly express, the various properties of her inner 
life. Her nature appeared to possess depth, too, as 
well as variety; but — or else Hester's fears deceived 
her — it lacked reference and adaptation to the world 
into which she was born. The child could not be 
made amenable to rules. In giving her existence, a 
great law had been broken ; and the result was a being 
whose elements were perhaps beautiful and brilliant 
but- all in disorder ; or with an order peculiar to them 
selves, amidst which the point of variety and arrange 
ment was difficult or impossible to be discovered. Hes 
ter could only account for the child's character — and 
even then, most vaguely and imperfectly — by recall- 
ing what she herself had been, during that momentous 
period while Pearl was imbibing her soul from the spir- 
itual world, and her bodily frame from its material of 
earth. The mother's impassioned state had been the 
medium through which were transmitted to the unborn 
infant the rays of its moral life ; and, however white 
and clear originally, they had taken the deep stains of 
crimson and gold, the fiery lustre, the black shadow, 
and the untempered light, of the intervening substance. 



108 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

Above all, the warfare of Hester's spirit, at that epoch, 
was perpetuated in Pearl. She could recognize her 
wild, desperate, defiant mood, the flightiness of her 
temper, and even some of the very cloud-shapes of 
gloom and despondency that had brooded in her heart. 
They were now illuminated by the morning radiance 
of a young child's disposition, but, later in the day of 
earthly existence, might be prolific of the storm and 
whirlwind. 

The discipline of the family, in those days, was of a 
far more rigid kind than now. The frown, the harsh 
rebuke, the frequent application of the rod, enjoined by 
Scriptural authority, were used, not merely in the way 
of punishment for actual offences, but as a wholesome 
regimen for the growth and promotion of all childish 
virtues. Hester Prynne, nevertheless, the lonely 
mother of this one child, ran little risk of erring on the 
side of undue severity. Mindful, however, of her own 
errors and misfortunes, she early sought to impose a 
tender, but strict, control over the infant immortality that 
was committed to her charge. But the task was be- 
yond her skill. After testing both smiles and frowns, 
and proving that neither mode of treatment possessed 
any calculable influence, Hester was ultimately com- 
pelled to stand aside, and permit the child to be swayed 
by her own impulses. Physical compulsion or restraint 
was effectual, of course, while it lasted. As to any 
other kind of discipline, whether addressed to her mind 
or heart, little Pearl might or might not be within its 
reach, in accordance with the caprice that ruled the 
moment. Her mother, while Pearl was yet an infant, 



PEARL. 109 

grew acquainted with a certain peculiar look, that warn- 
ed her when it would be labor thrown away to insist, 
persuade, or plead. It was a look so intelligent, yet 
inexplicable, so perverse, sometimes so malicious, but 
generally accompanied by a wild flow of spirits, that 
Hester could not help questioning, at such moments, 
whether Pearl was a human child. She seemed rather 
an airy sprite, which, after playing its fantastic sports 
for a little while upon the cottage-floor, would flit away 
with a mocking smile. Whenever that look appeared 
in her wild, bright, deeply black eyes, it invested her 
with a strange remoteness and intangibility ; it was as 
if she were hovering in the air and might vanish, like 
a glimmering light that comes we know not whence, 
and goes we know not whither. Beholding it, Hester 
was constrained to rush towards the child, — to pursue 
the little elfin the flight which she invariably began, — 
to snatch her to her bosom, with a close pressure and 
earnest kisses, — not so much from overflowing love, 
as to assure herself that Pearl was flesh and blood, and 
not utterly delusive. But Pearl's laugh, when she was 
caught, though full of merriment and music, made her 
mother more doubtful than before. 

Heart-smitten at this bewildering and baffling spell, 
that so often came between herself and her sole treas- 
ure, whom she had bought so dear, and who was all 
her world, Hester sometimes burst into passionate tears. 
Then, perhaps, — for there was no foreseeing how it 
might affect her, — Pearl would frown, and clench her 
little fist, and harden her small features into a stern, 
unsympathizing look of discontent. Not seldom, she 



110 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

would laugh anew, and louder than before, like a thing 
incapable and unintelligent of human sorrow. Or — 
but this more rarely happened — she would be con- 
vulsed with a rage of grief, and sob out her love for 
her mother, in broken words, and seem intent on prov- 
ing that she had a heart, by breaking it. Yet Hester 
was hardly safe in confiding herself to that gusty ten- 
derness ; it passed, as suddenly as it came. Brooding 
over all these matters, the mother felt like one who has 
evoked a spirit, but, by some irregularity in the process 
of conjuration, has failed to win the master-word that 
should control this new and incomprehensible intelli- 
gence. Her only real comfort was when the child lay 
in the placidity of sleep. Then she was sure of her, 
and tasted hours of quiet, sad, delicious happiness ; un- 
til ; — perhaps with that perverse expression glimmering 
from beneath her opening lids — little Pearl awoke ! 

How soon — with what strange rapidity, indeed ! — 
did Pearl arrive at an age that was capable of social 
intercourse, beyond the mother's ever-ready smile and 
nonsense-words ! And then what a happiness would 
it have been, could Hester Prynne have heard her 
clear, bird-like voice mingling with the uproar of other 
childish voices, and have distinguished and unravelled 
her own darling's tones, amid all the entangled outcry 
of a group of sportive children ! But this could never 
be. Pearl was a born outcast of the infantile world. 
An imp of evil, emblem and product of sin, she had no 
right among christened infants. Nothing was more 
remarkable than the instinct, as it seemed, with which 
the child comprehended her loneliness ; the destiny that 



PEARL. Ill 

had drawn an inviolable circle round about her ; the 
whole peculiarity, in short, of her position in respect to 
other children. Never, since her release from prison, 
had Hester met the public gaze without her. In all her 
walks about the town, Pearl, too, was there ; first as 
the babe in arms, and afterwards as the little girl, small 
companion of her mother, holding a forefinger with her 
whole grasp, and tripping along at the rate of three or 
four footsteps to one of Hester's. She saw the children 
of the settlement, on the grassy margin of the street, 
or at the domestic thresholds, disporting themselves in 
such grim fashion as the Puritanic nurture would per- 
mit ; playing at going to church, perchance ; or at 
scourging Quakers; or taking scalps in a sham-fight 
with the Indians ; or scaring one another with freaks of 
imitative witchcraft. Pearl saw, and gazed intently, 
but never sought to make acquaintance. If spoken to, 
she would not speak again. If the children gathered 
about her, as they sometimes did, Pearl would grow 
positively terrible in her puny wrath, snatching up 
stones to fling at them, with shrill, incoherent exclama- 
tions that made her mother tremble, because they had 
so much the sound of a witch's anathemas in some un- 
known tongue. 

The truth was, that the little Puritans, being of the 
most intolerant brood that ever lived, had got a vague 
idea of something outlandish, unearthly, or at variance 
with ordinary fashions, in the mother and child ; and 
therefore scorned them in their hearts, and not unfre- 
quently reviled them with their tongues. Pearl felt the 
sentiment, and requited it with the bitterest hatred that 



112 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

can be supposed to rankle in a childish bosom. These 
outbreaks of a fierce temper had a kind of value, and 
even comfort, for her mother ; because there was at 
least an intelligible earnestness in the mood, instead of 
the fitful caprice that so often thwarted her in the 
child's manifestations. It appalled her, nevertheless, 
to discern here, again, a shadowy reflection of the evil 
that had existed in herself. All this enmity and passion 
had Pearl inherited, by inalienable right, out of Hes- 
ter's heart. Mother and daughter stood together in the 
same circle of seclusion from human society ; and in 
the nature of the child seemed to be perpetuated those 
unquiet elements that had distracted Hester Prynne 
before Pearl's birth, but had since begun to be soothed 
away by the softening influences of maternity. 

At home, within and around her mother's cottage, 
Pearl wanted not a wide and various circle of acquaint- 
ance. The spell of life went forth from her ever cre- 
ative spirit, and communicated itself to a thousand 
objects, as a torch kindles a flame wherever it may be 
applied. The unlikeliest materials, a stick, a bunch of 
rags, a flower, were the puppets of Pearl's witchcraft, 
and, without undergoing any outward change, became 
spiritually adapted to whatever drama occupied the 
stage of her inner world. Her one baby- voice served 
a multitude of imaginary personages, old and young, to 
talk withal. The pine-trees, aged, black, and solemn, 
and flinging groans and other melancholy utterances on 
the breeze, needed little transformation to figure as Pu- 
ritan elders; the ugliest weeds of the garden were 
their children, whom Pearl smote down and uprooted, 



PEARL. 113 

most unmercifully. It was wonderful, the vast variety 
of forms into which she threw her intellect, with no 
continuity, indeed, but darting up and dancing, always 
in a state of preternatural activity, — soon sinking down, 
as if exhausted by so rapid and feverish a tide of life, 

— and succeeded by other shapes of a similar wild 
energy. It was like nothing so much as the phantas- 
magoric play of the northern lights. In the mere ex- 
ercise of the fancy, however, and the sportiveness of a 
growing mind, there might be little more than was ob- 
servable in other children of bright faculties ; except 
as Pearl, in the dearth of human playmates, was thrown 
more upon the visionary throng which she created. 
The singularity lay in the hostile feelings with which 
the child regarded all these offspring of her own heart 
and mind. She never created a friend, but seemed al- 
ways to be sowing broadcast the dragon's teeth, whence 
sprung a harvest of armed enemies, against whom she 
rushed to battle. It was inexpressibly sad" — then 
what depth of sorrow to a mother, who felt in her own 
heart the cause! — to observe, in one so -young, this 
constant recognition of an adverse world, and so fierce 
a training of the energies that were to make good her 
cause, in the contest that must ensue. 

Gazing at Pearl, Hester Prynne often dropped her 
work upon her knees, and cried out, with an agony 
which she would fain have hidden, but which made 
utterance for itself, betwixt speech and a groan, — 
u Father in Heaven, — if Thou art still my Father, 

— what is this being which I have brought into the 
world ! " And Pearl, overhearing the ejaculation, or 

8 



114 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

aware, through some more subtile channel, of those 
throbs of anguish, would turn her vivid and beautiful, 
little face upon her mother, smile with sprite-like in- 
telligence, and resume her play. 

One peculiarity of the child's deportment remains 
yet to be told. The very first thing which she had 
noticed, in her life, was — what? — not the moth- 
er's smile, responding to it, as other babies do, by 
that faint, embryo smile of the little mouth, remem- 
bered so doubtfully afterwards, and with such fond 
discussion whether it were indeed a smile. By no 
means ! But that first object of which Pearl seemed to 
become aware was — shall we say it ? — the scarlet 
letter on Hester's bosom ! One day, as her mother 
stooped over the cradle, the infant's eyes had been 
caught by the glimmering of the gold embroidery about 
the letter ; and, putting up her little hand, she grasped 
at it, smiling, not doubtfully, but with a decided gleam 
that gave her lace the look of a much older child. 
Then, gasping for breath, did Hester Prynne clutch 
the fatal token, instinctively endeavouring to tear it 
away ; so infinite was the torture inflicted by the in- 
telligent touch of Pearl's baby-hand. Again, as if her 
mother's agonized gesture were meant only to make 
sport for her, did little Pearl look into her eyes, and 
smile ! From that epoch, except when the child was 
asleep, Hester had never felt a moment's safety ; not a 
moment's calm enjoyment of her. Weeks, it is true, 
would sometimes elapse, during which Pearl's gaze 
might never once be fixed upon the scarlet letter ; but 
then, again, it would come at unawares, like the stroke 



PEARL. 115 

of sudden death, and always with that peculiar smile, 
and odd expression of the eyes. 

Once, this freakish, elvish cast came into the child's 
eyes, while Hester was looking at her own image in 
them, as mothers are fond of doing ; and, suddenly, — 
for women in solitude, and with troubled hearts, are 
pestered with unaccountable delusions, — she fancied 
that she beheld, not her own miniature portrait, but 
another face in the small black mirror of Pearl's eye. 
It was a face, fiend-like, full of smiling malice, yet 
bearing the semblance of features that she had known 
full well, though seldom with a smile, and never with 
malice, in them. It was as if an evil spirit possessed 
the child, and had just then peeped forth in mockery. 
Many a time afterwards had Hester been tortured, 
though less vividly, by the same illusion. 

In the afternoon of a certain summer's day, after 
Pearl grew big enough to run about, she amused her- 
self with gathering handfuls of wild-flowers, and fling- 
ing them, one by one, at her mother's bosom ; dancing 
up and down, like a little elf, whenever she hit the 
scarlet letter. Hester's first motion had been to cover 
her bosom with her clasped hands. But, whether from 
pride or resignation, or a feeling that her penance might 
best be wrought out by this unutterable pain, she resist- 
ed the impulse, and sat erect, pale as death, looking 
sadly into little Pearl's wild eyes. Still came the bat- 
tery of flowers, almost invariably hitting the mark, 
and covering the mother's breast with hurts for which 
she could find no balm in this world, nor knew how to 
seek it in another. At last, her shot being all expend- 



116 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

ed, the child stood still and gazed at Hester, with that 
little, laughing image of a fiend peeping out — or, 
whether it peeped or no, her mother so imagined it 
— from the unsearchable abyss of her black eyes. 

" Child, what art thou ? " cried the mother. 

" O, I am your little Pearl ! " answered the child. 

But, while she said it, Pearl laughed and began to 
dance up and down, with the humorsome gesticulation 
of a little imp, whose next freak might be to fly up the 
chimney. 

" Art thou my child, in very truth ? " asked Hester. 

Nor did she put the question altogether idly, but, for 
the moment, with a portion of genuine earnestness ; for, 
such was Pearl's wonderful intelligence, that her moth- 
er half doubted whether she were not acquainted with 
the secret spell of her existence, and might not now re- 
veal herself. 

" Yes ; I am little Pearl ! " repeated the child, con- 
tinuing her antics. 

" Thou art not my child ! Thou art no Pearl of 
mine ! " said the mother, half playfully ; for it was 
often the case that a sportive impulse came over her, 
in the midst of her deepest suffering. " Tell me, then, 
what thou art, and who sent thee hither ? " 

" Tell me, mother ! " said the child, seriously, com- 
ing up to Hester, and pressing herself close to her 
knees. " Do thou tell me ! " 

" Thy Heavenly Father sent thee ! " answered Hes- 
ter Prynne. 

But she said it with a hesitation that did not escape 
the acuteness of the child. Whether moved only by 



PEARL. 1 17 

her ordinary freakishness, or because an evil spirit 
prompted her, she put up her small forefinger, and 
touched the scarlet letter. 

" He did not send me ! " cried she, positively. " I 
have no Heavenly Father ! " 

" Hush, Pearl, hush ! Thou must not talk so ! " 
answered the mother, suppressing a groan. " He sent 
us all into this world. He sent even me, thy mother. 
Then, much more, thee ! Or, if not, thou strange and 
elfish child, whence didst thou come ? " 

" Tell me ! Tell me ! " repeated Pearl, no longer 
seriously, but laughing, and capering about the floor. 
" It is thou that must tell me ! " 

But Hester could not resolve the query, being herself 
in a dismal labyrinth of doubt. She remembered — 
betwixt a smile and a shudder — the talk of the neigh- 
bouring townspeople ; who, seeking vainly elsewhere 
for the child's paternity, and observing some of her 
odd attributes, had given out that poor little Pearl was 
a demon offspring; such as, ever since old Catholic 
times, had occasionally been seen on earth, through the 
agency of their mothers' sin, and to promote some foul 
and wicked purpose. Luther, according to the scan- 
dal of his monkish enemies, was a brat of that hellish 
breed ; nor was Pearl the only child to whom this in- 
auspicious origin was assigned, among the New Eng- 
land Puritans. 



113 THE SCARLET LETTER. 



VII. 

THE GOVERNOR'S HALL. 

Hester Prynne went, one day, to the mansion of 
Governor Belling', am, with a pair of gloves, which she 
had fringed and embroidered to his order, and which 
were to be worn on some great occasion of state ; for, 
though the chances of a popular election had caused 
this former ruler to descend a step or two from the 
highest rank, he still held an honorable and influential 
place among the colonial magistracy. 

Another and far more important reason than the 
delivery of a pair of embroidered gloves impelled 
Hester, at this time, to seek an interview with a person- 
age of so much power and activity in the affairs of the 
settlement. It had reached her ears, that there was a 
design on the part of some of the leading inhabitants, 
cherishing the more rigid order of principles in religion 
and government, to deprive her of her child. On the 
supposition that Pearl, as already hinted, was of demon 
origin, these good people not unreasonably argued that 
a Christian interest in the mother's soul required them 
to remove such a stumbling-block from her path. If 
the child, on the other hand, were really capable of 
moral and religious growth, and possessed the elements 
of ultimate salvation, then, surely, it would enjoy all 



THE GOVERNOR'S HALL. 119 

the fairer prospect of these advantages by being trans- 
ferred to wiser and better guardianship than Hester 
Prynne's. Among those who promoted the design, 
Governor Bellingham was said to be one of the most 
busy. It may appear singular, and, indeed, not a little 
ludicrous, that an affair of this kind, which, in later 
days, would have been referred to no higher jurisdiction 
than that of the selectmen of the town, should then have 
been a question publicly discussed, and on which states- 
men of eminence took sides. At that epoch of pris- 
tine simplicity, however, matters of even slighter pub- 
lic interest, and of far less intrinsic weight than the 
welfare of Hester and her child, were strangely mixed 
up with the deliberations of legislators and acts of state. 
The period was hardly, if at all, earlier than that of 
our story, when a dispute concerning the right of prop- 
erty in a pig, not only caused a fierce and bitter con- 
test in the legislative body of the colony, but resulted 
in an important modification of the framework itself 
of the legislature. 

Full of concern, therefore, — but so conscious of her 
own right, that it seemed scarcely an unequal match be- 
tween the public, on the one side, and a lonely woman, 
backed by the sympathies of nature, on the other, — 
Hester Prynne set forth from her solitary cottage. Lit- 
tle Pearl, of course, was her companion. She was 
now of an age to run lightly along by her mother's 
side, and, constantly in motion from morn till sunset, 
could have accomplished a much longer journey than 
that before her. Often, nevertheless, more from ca- 
price than necessity, she demanded to be taken up in 



120 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

arms, but was soon as imperious to be set down again, 
and frisked onward before Hester on the grassy path- 
way, with many a harmless trip and tumble. We have 
spoken of Pearl's rich and luxuriant beauty ; a beauty 
that shone with deep and vivid tints ; a bright complex- 
ion, eyes possessing intensity both of depth and glow, 
and hair already of a deep, glossy brown, and which, 
in after years, would be nearly akin to black. There 
was fire in her and throughout her ; she seemed the 
unpremeditated offshoot of a passionate moment. Her 
mother, in contriving the child's garb, had allowed the 
gorgeous tendencies of her imagination their full play ; 
arraying her in a crimson velvet tunic, of a peculiar 
cut, abundantly embroidered with fantasies and flour- 
ishes of gold thread. So much strength of coloring, 
which must have given a wan and pallid aspect to 
cheeks of a fainter bloom, was admirably adapted to 
Pearl's beauty, and made her the very brightest little 
jet of flame that ever danced upon the earth. 

But it was a remarkable attribute of this garb, and, 
indeed, of the child's whole appearance, that it irresist- 
ibly and inevitably reminded the beholder of the token 
which Hester Prynne was doomed to wear upon her 
bosom. It was the scarlet letter in another form ; 
the scarlet letter endowed with life ! The mother 
herself — as if the red ignominy were so deeply 
scorched into her brain, that all her conceptions as- 
sumed its form — had carefully wrought out the simili- 
tude ; lavishing many hours of morbid ingenuity, to 
create an analogy between the object of her affection, 
and the emblem of her guilt and torture. But, in truth, 



THE GOVERNOR'S HALL. 121 

Pearl was the one, as well as the other ; and only in 
consequence of that identity had Hester contrived so 
perfectly to represent the scarlet letter in her appear- 
ance. 

As the two wayfarers came within the precincts of 
the town, the children of the Puritans looked up from 
their play, — or what passed for play with those sombre 
little urchins, — and spake gravely one to another : — 

"Behold, verily, there is the woman of the scarlet 
letter ; and, of a truth, moreover, there is the likeness 
of the scarlet letter running along by her side ! Come, 
therefore, and let us fling mud at them ! " 

But Pearl, who was a dauntless child, after frowning, 
stamping her foot, and shaking her little hand with a 
variety of threatening gestures, suddenly made a rush 
at the knot of her enemies, and put them all to flight. 
She resembled, in her fierce pursuit of them, an infant 
pestilence, — the scarlet fever, or some such half- 
fledged angel of judgment, — whose mission was to 
punish the sins of the rising generation. She screamed 
and shouted, too, with a terrific volume of sound, which 
doubtless caused the hearts of the fugitives to quake 
within therm The victory accomplished, Pearl re- 
turned quietly to her mother, and looked up smiling into 
her face. -^ 

Without further adventure, they reached the dwell- 
ing of Governor Bellingham. This was a large 
wooden house, built in a fashion of which there are 
specimens still extant in the streets of our eider towns ; 
now moss-grown, crumbling to decay, and melancholy 
at heart with the many sorrowful or joyful occurrences 



122 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

remembered or forgotten, that have happened, and 
passed away, within their dusky chambers. Then, how- 
ever, there was the freshness of the passing year on its 
exterior, and the cheerfulness, gleaming forth from the 
sunny windows, of a human habitation into which death 
had never entered. It had indeed a very cheery aspect ; 
the walls being overspread with a kind of stucco, in 
which fragments of broken glass were plentifully inter- 
mixed; so that, when the sunshine fell aslant- wise over 
the front of the edifice, it glittered and sparkled as if 
diamonds had been flung against it by the double 
handful. The brilliancy might have befitted Aladdin's 
palace, rather than the mansion of a grave old Puritan 
ruler. It was further decorated with strange and seem- 
ingly cabalistic figures and diagrams, suitable to the 
quaint taste of the age, which had been drawn in the 
stucco when newly laid on, and had now grown hard 
and durable, for the admiration of after times. 

Pearl, looking at this bright wonder of a house, began 
to caper and dance, and imperatively required that the 
whole breadth of sunshine should be stripped off its 
front, and given her to play with. 

" No, my little Pearl ! " said her mother. " Thou 
must gather thine own sunshine. I have none to give 
thee ! " 

They approached the door ; which was of an arched 
form, and flanked on each side by a narrow tower or 
projection of the edifice, in both of which were lattice- 
windows, with wooden shutters to close over them at 
need. Lifting the iron hammer that hung at the portal, 
Hester Prynne gave a summons, which was answered 



123 N 



by one of the Governor's bond -servants ; a free-born 
Englishman, but now a seven years' slave. During 
that term he was to be the property of his master, and 
as much a commodity of bargain and sale as an ox, or 
a joint-stool. The serf wore the blue coat, which was 
the customary garb of serving-men at that period, and 
long before, in the old hereditary halls of England. 

" Is the worshipful Governor Bellingham within ? " 
inquired Hester. 

" Yea, forsooth," replied the bond-servant, staring 
with wide-open eyes, at the scarlet letter, which, being 
a new-comer in the country, he had never before seen. 
"Yea, his honorable worship is within. But he hath 
a godly minister or two with him, and likewise a leech. 
Ye may not see his worship now." 

" Nevertheless, I will enter," answered Hester 
Prynne ; and the bond-servant, perhaps judging from 
the decision of her air and the glittering symbol in her 
bosom, that she was a great lady in the land, offered no 
opposition. 

So the mother and little Pearl were admitted into the 
hall of entrance. With many variations, suggested by 
the nature of his building-materials, diversity of cli- 
mate, and a different mode of social life, Governor 
Bellingham had planned his new habitation after the 
residences of gentlemen of fair estate in his native 
land. Here, then, was a wide and reasonably lofty 
hall, extending through the whole depth of the house, 
and forming a medium of general communication, 
more or less directly, with all the other apartments. 
At one extremity, this spacious room was lighted by 



124 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

the windows of the two towers, which formed a small 
recess on either side of the portal. At the other end, 
though partly muffled by a curtain, it was more power- 
fully illuminated by one of those embowed hall-win- 
dows which we read of in old books, and which was 
provided with a deep and cushioned seat. Here, on 
the cushion, lay a folio tome, probably of the Chroni- 
cles of England, or other such substantial literature ; 
even as, in our own days, we scatter gilded volumes 
on the centre-table, to be turned over by the casual 
guest. The furniture of the hall consisted of some 
ponderous chairs, the backs of which were elaborately 
carved with wreaths of oaken flowers; and likewise a 
table in the same taste ; the whole being of the Eliza- 
bethan age, or perhaps earlier, and heirlooms, trans- 
ferred hither from the Governor's paternal home. On 
the table — in token that the sentiment of old English 
hospitality had not been left behind — stood a large 
pewter tankard, at the bottom of which, had Hester or 
Pearl peeped into it, they might have seen the frothy 
remnant of a recent draught of ale. 

On the wall hung a row of portraits, representing 
the forefathers of the Bellingham lineage, some with 
armour on their breasts, and others with stately ruffs and 
robes of peace. All were characterized by the stern- 
ness and severity which old portraits so invariably put 
on ; as if they were the ghosts, rather than the pictures, 
of departed worthies, and were gazing with harsh and 
intolerant criticism at the pursuits and enjoyments of 
living men. 

At about the centre of the oaken panels, that lined 



125 



the hall, was suspended a suit of mail, not, like the 
pictures, an ancestral relic, but of the most modern 
date ; for it had been manufactured by a skilful armorer 
in London, the same year in which Governor Belling- 
ham came over to New England. There was a steel 
head-piece, a cuirass, a gorget, and greaves, with a 
pair of gauntlets and a sword hanging beneath ; all, 
and especially the helmet and breastplate, so highly 
burnished as to glow with white radiance, and scat- 
ter an illumination everywhere about upon the floor. 
This bright panoply was not meant for mere idle show, 
but had been worn by the Governor on many a solemn 
muster and training field, and had glittered, moreover, 
at the head of a regiment in the Pequod war. For, 
though bred a lawyer, and accustomed to speak of 
Bacon, Coke, Noye, and Finch, as his professional 
associates, the exigencies of this new country had 
transformed Governor Bellingham into a soldier, as 
well as a statesman and ruler. 

Little Pearl — who was as greatly pleased with the 
gleaming armour as she had been with the glittering 
frontispiece of the house — spent some time looking 
into the polished mirror of the breastplate. 

u Mother," cried she, " I see you here. Look ! 
Look ! " 

Hester looked, by way of humoring the child ; and 
she saw that, owing to the peculiar effect of this con- 
vex mirror, the scarlet letter was represented in exag- 
gerated and gigantic proportions, so as to be greatly 
the most prominent feature of her appearance. In 
truth, she seemed absolutely hidden behind it. Pearl 



126 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

pointed upward, also, at a similar picture in the head- 
piece ; smiling at her mother, with the elfish intelli- 
gence that was so familiar an expression on her 
small physiognomy. That look of naughty merriment 
was likewise reflected in the mirror, with so much 
breadth and intensity of effect, that it made Hester 
Prynne feel as if it could not be the image of her own 
child, but of an imp who was seeking to mould itself 
into Pearl's shape. 

" Come along, Pearl ! " said she, drawing her away. 
" Come and look into this fair garden. It may be, we 
shall see flowers there ; more beautiful ones than we 
find in the woods." 

Pearl, accordingly, ran to the bow-window, at the 
farther end of the hall, and looked along the vista of 
a garden-walk, carpeted with closely shaven grass, and 
bordered with some rude and immature attempt at 
shrubbery. But the proprietor appeared already to 
have relinquished, as hopeless, the effort to perpetuate 
on this side of the Atlantic, in a hard soil and amid the 
close struggle for subsistence, the native English taste 
for ornamental gardening. Cabbages grew in plain 
sight ; and a pumpkin vine, rooted at some distance, 
had run across the intervening space, and deposited 
one of its gigantic products directly beneath the hall- 
window ; as if to warn the Governor that this great 
lump of vegetable gold was as rich an ornament as 
New England earth would offer him. There were a 
few rose-bushes, however, and a number of apple-trees, 
probably the descendants of those planted by the Rev- 
erend Mr. Blackstone, the first settler of the peninsula ; 



THE GOVERNOR'S HALL. 127 

that half mythological personage who rides through 
our early annals, seated on the back of a bull. 

Pearl, seeing the rose-bushes, began to cry for a red 
rose, and would not be pacified. 

" Hush, child, hush ! " said her mother earnestly. 
I Do not cry, dear little Pearl ! I hear voices in the 
garden. The Governor is coming, and gentlemen 
along with him ! " 

In fact, adown the vista of the garden-avenue, a 
number of persons were seen approaching towards the 
house. Pearl, in utter scorn of her mother's attempt 
to quiet her, gave an eldritch scream, and then be- 
came silent ; not from any notion of obedience, but 
because the quick and mobile curiosity of her dispo- 
sition was excited by the appearance of these new 
personages. 



128 THE SCARLET LETTER. 



VIII. 

THE ELF-CHILD AND THE MINISTER. 

Governor Bellingham, in a loose gown and easy 
cap, — such as elderly gentlemen loved to indue them- 
selves with, in their domestic privacy, — walked fore- 
most, and appeared to be showing off his estate, and 
expatiating on his projected improvements. The wide 
circumference of an elaborate ruff, beneath his gray 
beard, in the antiquated fashion of King James's reign, 
caused his head to look not a little like that of John 
the Baptist in a charger. The impression made by his 
aspect, so rigid and severe, and frost-bitten with more 
than autumnal age, was hardly in keeping with the 
appliances of worldly enjoyment wherewith he had 
evidently done his utmost to surround himself. But it 
is an error to suppose that our grave forefathers — 
though accustomed to speak and think of human ex- 
istence as a state merely of trial and warfare, and 
though unfeignedly prepared to sacrifice goods and life 
at the behest of duty — made it a matter of conscience 
to reject such means of comfort, or even luxury, as lay 
fairly within their grasp. This creed was never taught, 
for instance, by the venerable pastor, John Wilson, 
whose beard, white as a snow-drift, was seen over Gov- 
ernor Bellingham's shoulder; while its wearer sng- 



THE ELF-CHILD AND THE MINISTER. 129 

gested that pears and peaches might yet be naturalized 
in the New England climate, and that purple grapes 
might possibly be compelled to flourish, against the 
sunny garden-wall. The old clergyman, nurtured at 
the rich bosom of the English Church, had a long 
established and legitimate taste for all good and com- 
fortable things ; and however stern he might show 
himself in the pulpit, or in his public reproof of such 
transgressions as that of Hester Prynne, still, the genial 
benevolence of his private life had won him warmer 
affection than was accorded to any of his professional 
contemporaries. 

Behind the Governor and Mr. Wilson came two other 
guests ; one, the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, whom 
the reader may remember, as having taken a brief and 
reluctant part in the scene of Hester Prynne's disgrace ; 
and, in close companionship with him, old Roger Chil- 
lingworth, a person of great skill in physic, who, for 
two or three years past, had been settled in the town. 
It was understood that this learned man was the phy- 
sician as well as friend of the young minister, whose 
health had severely suffered, of late, by his too unre- 
served self-sacrifice to the labors and duties of the pas- 
toral relation. 

The Governor, in advance of his visitors, ascended 
one or two steps, and, throwing open the leaves of the 
great hall window, found himself close to little Pearl. 
The shadow of the curtain fell on Hester Prynne, and 
partially concealed her. 

" What have we here ? " said Governor Bellingham, 
looking with surprise at the scarlet little figure before 
9 



130 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

him. " I profess, I have never seen the like, since my 
days of vanity, in old King James's time, when I was 
wont to esteem it a high favor to be admitted to a court 
mask ! There used to be a swarm of these small 
apparitions, in holiday-time ; and we called them chil- 
dren of the Lord of Misrule. But how gat such a 
guest into my hall ? " 

" Ay, indeed ! " cried good old Mr. Wilson. " What 
little bird of scarlet plumage may this be ? Me thinks 
I have seen just such figures, when the sun has been 
shining through a richly painted window, and tracing 
out the golden and crimson images across the floor. 
But that was in the old land. Prithee, young one, who 
art thou, and what has ailed thy mother to bedizen 
thee in this strange fashion ? Art thou a Christian 
child, — ha ? Dost know thy catechism ? Or art thou 
one of those naughty elfs or fairies, whom we thought 
to have left behind us, with other relics of Papistry, in 
merry old England ? " 

" I am mother's child," answered the scarlet vision, 
" and my name is Pearl ! " 

" Pearl ? — Ruby, rather ! — or Coral ! — or Red 
Rose, at the very least, judging from thy hue ! " re- 
sponded the old minister, putting forth his hand in a 
vain attempt to pat little Pearl on the cheek. " But 
where is this mother of thine ? Ah ! I see," he added ; 
and, turning to Governor Bellingham, whispered, — 
" This is the selfsame child of whom we have held 
speech together ; and behold here the unhappy woman, 
Hester Prynne, her mother ! " 

" Sayest thou so ? " cried the Governor. " Nay, we 



THE ELF-CHILD AND THE MINISTER. 131 

might have judged that such a child's mother must 
needs be a scarlet woman, and a worthy type of her of 
Babylon ! But she comes at a good time ; and we will 
look into this matter forthwith." 

Governor Bellingham stepped through the window 
into the hall, followed by his three guests. 

" Hester Prynne," said he, fixing his naturally stern 
regard on the wearer of the scarlet letter, " there hath 
been much question concerning thee, of late. The 
point hath been weightily discussed, whether we, that 
are of authority and influence, do well discharge our 
consciences by trusting an immortal soul, such as there 
is in yonder child, to the guidance of one who hath 
stumbled and fallen, amid the pitfalls of this world. 
Speak thou, the child's own mother! Were it not, 
thinkest thou, for thy little one's temporal and eternal 
welfare, that she be taken out of thy charge, and clad 
soberly, and disciplined strictly, and instructed in the 
truths of heaven and earth ? What canst thou do for 
the child, in this kind ? " 

" I can teach my little Pearl what I have learned 
from this ! " answered Hester Prynne, laying her finger 
on the red token. 

u Woman, it is thy badge of shame ! " replied the 
stern magistrate. " It is because of the stain which 
that letter indicates, that we would transfer thy child 
to other hands." 

" Nevertheless," said the mother calmly, though 
growing more pale, "this badge hath taught me, — it 
daily teaches me, — it is teaching me at this moment, 
— lessons whereof my child may be the wiser and 
better, albeit they can profit nothing to myself." 



132 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

" We will judge warily," said Bellingham, u and 
look well what we are about to do. Good Master Wil- 
son, I pray you, examine this Pearl, — since that is her 
name, — and see whether she hath had such Christian 
nurture as befits a child of her age." 

The old minister seated himself in an arm-chair, 
and made an effort to draw Pearl betwixt his knees. 
But the child, unaccustomed to the touch or familiarity 
of any but her mother, escaped through the open win- 
dow and stood on the upper step, looking like a wild, 
tropical bird, of rich plumage, ready to take flight into 
the upper air. Mr. Wilson, not a little astonished at 
this outbreak, — for he was a grandfatherly sort of 
personage, and usually a vast favorite with children, — 
essayed, however, to proceed with the examination. 

" Pearl," said he, with great solemnity, " thou must 
take heed to instruction, that so, in due season, thou 
mayest wear in thy bosom the pearl of great price. 
Canst thou tell me, my child, who made thee ? " 

Now Pearl knew well enough who made her; for 
Hester Prynne, the daughter of a pious home, very 
soon after her talk with the child . about her Heavenly 
Father, had begun to inform her of those truths which 
the human spirit, at whatever stage of immaturity, 
imbibes with such eager interest. Pearl, therefore, so 
large were the attainments of her three years' lifetime, 
could have borne a fair examination in the New Eng- 
land Primer, or the first column of the Westminster 
Catechism, although unacquainted with the outward 
form of either of those celebrated works. But that 
perversity, which all children have more or less of, and 



THE ELF-CHILD AND THE MINISTER. 133 

of which little Pearl had a tenfold portion, now, at the 
most inopportune moment, took thorough possession of 
her, and closed her lips, or impelled her to speak words 
amiss. After putting her finger in her mouth, with 
many ungracious refusals to answer good Mr. Wilson's 
question, the child finally announced that she had not 
been made at all, but had been plucked by her mother 
off the bush of wild roses, that grew by the prison- 
door. 

This fantasy was probably suggested by the near 
proximity of the Governor's red roses, as Pearl stood 
outside of the window ; together with her recollection 
of the prison rose-bush, which she had passed in com- 
ing hither. 

Old Roger Chillingworth, with a smile on his face, 
whispered something in the young clergyman's ear. 
Hester Prynne looked at the man of skill, and even 
then, with her fate hanging in the balance, was startled 
to perceive what a change had come over his features, 
— how much uglier they were, — how his dark com- 
plexion seemed to have grown duskier, and his figure 
more misshapen, — since the days when she had famil- 
iarly known him. She met his eyes for an instant, 
but was immediately constrained to give all her atten- 
tion to the scene now going forward. 

" This is awful ! " cried the Governor, slowly recov- 
ering from the astonishment into which Pearl's response 
had thrown him. " Here is a child of three years old, 
and she cannot tell who made her ! Without question, 
she is equally in the dark as to her soul, its present de- 
pravity, and future destiny ! Methinks, gentlemen, we 
need inquire no further." 



134 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

Hester caught hold of Pearl, and drew her forcibly 
into her arms, confronting the old Puritan magistrate 
with almost a fierce expression. Alone in the world, 
cast off by it, and with this sole treasure to keep her 
heart alive, she felt that she possessed indefeasible 
rights against the world, and was ready to defend them 
to the death. 

" God gave me the child ! " cried she. " He gave 
her, in requital of all things else, which ye had taken 
from me. She is my happiness ! — she is my torture, 
none the less ! Pearl keeps me here in life ! Pearl 
punishes me too ! See ye not, she is the scarlet letter, 
only capable of being loved, and so endowed with a 
million-fold the power of retribution for my sin ? Ye 
shall not take her ! I will die first ! " 

" My poor woman," said the not unkind old minister, 
" the child shall be well cared for ! —far better than 
thou canst do it." 

" God gave her into my keeping," repeated Hester 
Prynne, raising her voice almost to a shriek. " I will 
not give her up ! " — And here, by a sudden impulse, 
she turned to the young clergyman, Mr. Dimmesdale, at 
whom, up to this moment, she had seemed hardly so 
much as once to direct her eyes. — " Speak thou for 
me ! " cried she. " Thou wast my pastor, and hadst 
charge of my soul, and knowest me better than these 
men can. I will not lose the child ! Speak for me ! 
Thou knowest, — for thou hast sympathies which these 
men lack ! — thou knowest what is in my heart, and 
what are a mother's rights, and how much the stronger 
they are, when that mother has but her child and the 



THE ELF-CHILD AND THE MINISTER. 135 

scarlet letter! Look thou to it! I will not lose the 
child ! Look to it ! " 

At this wild and singular appeal, which indicated that 
Hester Prynne's situation had provoked her to little less 
than madness, the young minister at once came for- 
ward, pale, and holding his hand over his heart, as was 
his custom whenever his peculiarly nervous tempera- 
ment was thrown into agitation. He looked now more 
careworn and emaciated than as we described him at 
the scene of Hester's public ignominy ; and whether it 
were his failing health, or whatever the cause might be, 
his large dark eyes had a world of pain in their troubled 
and melancholy depth. 

u There is truth in what she says," began the minis- 
ter, with a voice sweet, tremulous, but powerful, inso- 
much that the hall reechoed, and the hollow armour 
rang with it, — " truth in what Hester says, and in the 
feeling which inspires her ! God gave her the child, 
and gave her, too, an instinctive knowledge of its na- 
ture and requirements, — both seemingly so peculiar, — 
which no other mortal being can possess. And, more- 
over, is there not a quality of awful sacredness in the 
relation between this mother and this child ? " 

"Ay! — how is that, good Master Dimmesdale ? " 
interrupted the Governor. " Make that plain, I pray 
you ! " 

" It must be even so," resumed the minister. " For, 
if we deem it otherwise, do we not thereby say that 
the Heavenly Father, the Creator of all flesh, hath 
lightly recognized a deed of sin, and made of no ac- 
count the distinction between unhallowed lust and holy 



136 THE SCARLET LETTER. 






love ? This child of its father's guilt and its mother's 
shame hath come from the hand of God, to work in 
many ways upon her heart, who pleads so earnestly, 
and with such bitterness of spirit, the right to keep her. 
It was meant for a blessing ; for the one blessing of her 
life ! It was meant, doubtless, as the mother herself 
hath told us, for a retribution too ; a torture, to be felt 
at many an unthought of moment ; a pang, a sting, an 
ever-recurring agony, in the midst of a troubled joy ! 
Hath she not expressed this thought in the garb of the 
poor child, so forcibly reminding us of that red symbol 
which sears her bosom ? " 

" Well said, again ! " cried good Mr. Wilson. " I 
feared the woman had no better thought than to make 
a mountebank of her child ! " 

" O, not so ! — not so ! " continued Mr. Dimmesdale. 
" She recognizes, believe me, the solemn miracle which 
God hath wrought, in the existence of that child. And 
may she feel, too, — what, methinks, is the very truth, 
— that this boon was meant, above all things else, to 
keep the mother's soul alive, and to preserve her from 
blacker depths of sin into which Satan might else have 
sought to plunge her ! Therefore it is good for this 
poor, sinful woman that she hath an infant immortality, 
a being capable of eternal joy or sorrow, confided to 
her care, — to be trained up by her to righteousness, — 
to remind her, at every moment, of her fall, — but yet 
to teach her, as it were by the Creator's sacred pledge, 
that, if she bring the child to heaven, the child also 
will bring its parent thither ! Herein is the sinful 
mother happier than the sinful father. For Hester 



THE ELF-CHILD AND THE MINISTER. 137 

Prynne's sake, then, and no less for the poor child's 
sake, let us leave them as Providence hath seen fit to 
place them ! " 

" You speak, my friend, with a strange earnestness," 
said old Roger Chillingworth, smiling at him. 

" And there is weighty import in what my young 
brother hath spoken," added the Reverend Mr. Wilson. 
I What say you, worshipful Master Bellingham ? Hath 
he not pleaded well for the poor woman ? " 

u Indeed hath he," answered the magistrate, " and 
hath adduced such arguments, that we will even leave 
the matter as it now stands ; so long, at least, as there 
shall be no further scandal in the woman. Care must 
be had, nevertheless, to put the child to due and stated 
examination in the catechism at thy hands or Master 
Dimmesdale's. Moreover, at a proper season, the tith- 
ing-men must take heed that she go both to school and 
to.meeting." 

The young minister, on ceasing to speak, had with- 
drawn a few steps from the group, and stood with his 
face partially concealed in the heavy folds of the win- 
dow-curtain ; while the shadow of his figure, which the 
sunlight cast upon the floor, was tremulous with the 
vehemence of his appeal. Pearl, that wild and flighty 
little elf, stole softly towards him, and, taking his hand 
in the grasp of both her own, laid her cheek against it ; 
a caress so tender, and withal so unobtrusive, that her 
mother, who was looking on, asked herself, — " Is that 
my Pearl ? " Yet she knew that there was love in the 
child's heart, although it mostly revealed itself in pas- 
sion, and hardly twice in her lifetime had been softened 



138 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

by such gentleness as now. The minister, — for, save 
the long-sought regards of woman, nothing is sweeter 
than these marks of childish preference, accorded spon- 
taneously by a spiritual instinct, and therefore seeming 
to imply in us something truly worthy to be loved, — 
the minister looked round, laid his hand on the child's 
head, hesitated an instant, and then kissed her brow. 
Little Pearl's unwonted mood of sentiment lasted no 
longer; she laughed, and went capering down the hall, 
so airily, that old Mr. Wilson raised a question whether 
even her tiptoes touched the floor. 

" The little baggage hath witchcraft in her, I pro- 
fess," said he to Mr. Dimmesdale. " She needs no old 
woman's broomstick to fly withal ! " 

" A strange child ! " remarked old Roger Chilling- 
worth. " It is easy to see the mother's part in her. 
Would it be beyond a philosopher's research, think ye, 
gentlemen, to analyze that child's nature, and, from its 
make and mould, to give a shrewd guess at the 
father ? " 

" Nay ; it would be sinful, in such a question, to fol- 
low the clew of profane philosophy," said Mr. Wilson. 
"Better to fast and pray upon it; and still better, it 
may be, to leave the mystery as we find it, unless Prov- 
idence reveal it of its own accord. Thereby, every 
good Christian man hath a title to show a father's kind- 
ness towards the poor, deserted babe." 

The affair being so satisfactorily concluded, Hester 
Prynne, with Pearl, departed from the house. As they 
descended the steps, it is averred that the lattice of a 
chamber-window was thrown open, and forth into the 



THE ELF-CHILD AND THE MINISTER. 139 

sunny day was thrust the face of Mistress Hibbins, 
Governor Bellingham's bitter-tempered sister, and the 
same who, a few years later, was executed as a witch. 

" Hist, hist ! " said she, while her ill-omened physi- 
ognomy seemed to cast a shadow over the cheerful 
newness of the house. " Wilt thou go with us to-night ? 
There will be a merry company in the forest ; and I 
wellnigh promised the Black Man that comely Hester 
Prynne should make one." 

" Make my excuse to him, so please you ! " answer- 
ed Hester, with a triumphant smile. " I must tarry at 
home, and keep watch over my little Pearl. Had they 
taken her from me, I would willingly have gone with 
thee into the forest, and signed my name in the Black 
Man's book too, and that with mine own blood ! " 

" We shall have thee there anon ! " said the witch- 
lady, frowning, as she drew back her head. 

But here — if we suppose this interview betwixt Mis- 
tress Hibbins and Hester Prynne to be authentic, and 
not a parable — was already an illustration of the young 
minister's argument against sundering the relation of a 
fallen mother to the offspring of her frailty. Even thus 
early had the child saved her from Satan's snare. 



140 THE SCARLET LETTER. 



IX. 

THE LEECH. 

Under the appellation of Roger Chillingworth, the 
reader will remember, was hidden another name, which 
its former wearer had resolved should never more be 
spoken. It has been related, how, in the crowd that 
witnessed Hester Prynne's ignominious exposure, stood 
a man, elderly, travel- worn, who, just emerging from 
the perilous wilderness, beheld the woman, in whom he 
hoped to find embodied the warmth and cheerfulness of 
home, set up as a type of sin before the people. Her 
matronly fame was trodden under all men's feet. In- 
famy was babbling around her in the public market- 
place. For her kindred, should the tidings ever reach 
them, and for the companions of her unspotted life, 
there remained nothing but the contagion of her dis- 
honor; which would not fail to be distributed in strict 
accordance and proportion with the intimacy and sa- 
credness of their previous relationship. Then why — 
since the choice was with himself — should the individ- 
ual, whose connection with the fallen woman had been 
the most intimate and sacred of them all, come forward 
to vindicate his claim to an inheritance so little de- 
sirable ? He resolved not to be pilloried beside her on 
her pedestal of shame. Unknown to all but Hester 



•THE LEECH. 141 

Prynne, and possessing the lock and key of her silence, 
he chose to withdraw his name from the roll of man- 
kind, and, as regarded his former tie^s and interests, to 
vanish out of life as completely as if he indeed lay at 
the bottom of the ocean, whither rumor had long ago 
consigned him. This purpose once effected, new in- 
terests would immediately spring up, and likewise a 
new purpose ; dark, it is true, if not guilty, but of force 
enough to engage the full strength of his faculties. 

In pursuance of this resolve, he took up his resi- 
dence in the Puritan town, as Roger Chillingworth, 
without other introduction than the learning and intelli- 
gence of which he possessed more than a common 
measure. As his studies, at a previous period of his 
life, had made him extensively acquainted with the 
medical science of the day, it was as a physician that 
he presented himself, and as such was cordially re- 
ceived. Skilful men, of the medical and chirurgical 
profession, were of rare occurrence in the colony. 
They seldom, it would appear, partook of the religious 
zeal that brought other emigrants across the Atlantic. 
In their researches into the human frame, it may be that 
the higher and more subtile faculties of such men were 
materialized, and that they lost the spiritual view of ex- 
istence amid the intricacies of that wondrous mechan- 
ism, which seemed to involve art enough to comprise 
all of life within itself. At all events, the health of the 
good town of Boston, so far as medicine had aught to 
do with it, had hitherto lain in the guardianship of an 
aged deacon and apothecary, whose piety and godly 
deportment were stronger testimonials in his favor, than 



142 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

any that he could have produced in the shape of a di- 
ploma. The only surgeon was one who combined the 
occasional exercise of that noble art with the daily and 
habitual flourish of a razor. To such a professional 
body Roger Chillingworth was a brilliant acquisition. 
He soon manifested his familiarity with the ponderous 
and imposing machinery of antique physic ; in which 
every remedy contained a multitude of far-fetched and 
heterogeneous ingredients, as elaborately compounded 
as if the proposed result had been the Elixir of Life. 
In his Indian captivity, moreover, he had gained much 
knowledge of the properties of native herbs and roots ; 
nor did he conceal from his patients, that these simple 
medicines, Nature's boon to the untutored savage, had 
quite as large a share of his own confidence as the 
European pharmacopoeia, which so many learned doc- 
tors had spent centuries in elaborating. 

This learned stranger was exemplary, as regarded at 
least the outward forms of a religious life, and, early 
after his arrival,' had chosen for his spiritual guide the 
Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale. The young divine, whose 
scholar-like renown still lived in Oxford, was considered 
by his more fervent admirers as little less than a heaven- 
ordained apostle, destined, should he live and labor for 
the ordinary term of life, to do as great deeds for the 
now feeble New England Church, as the early Fathers 
had achieved for the infancy of the Christian faith. 
About this period, however, the health of Mr. Dimmes- 
dale had evidently begun to fail. By those best ac- 
quainted with his habits, the paleness of the young 
minister's cheek was accounted for by his too earnest 



THE LEECH. 143 

devotion to study, his scrupulous fulfilment of parochial 
duty, and, more than all, by the fasts and vigils of 
which he made a frequent practice, in order to keep 
the grossness of this earthly state from clogging and 
obscuring his spiritual lamp. Some declared, that, if 
Mr. Dimmesdale were really going to die, it was cause 
enough, that the world was not worthy to be any longer 
trodden by his feet. He himself, on the other hand, 
with characteristic humility, avowed his belief, that, if 
Providence should see fit to remove him, it would be 
because of his own unworthiness to perform its hum- 
blest mission here on earth. With all this difference 
of opinion as to the cause of his decline, there could 
be no question of the fact. His form grew emaciated ; 
his voice, though still rich and sweet, had a certain 
melancholy prophecy of decay in it ; he was often ob- 
served, on any slight alarm or other sudden accident, 
to jut his hand over his heart, with first a flush and 
then a paleness, indicative of pain. 

Such was the young clergyman's condition, and so 
imminent the prospect that his dawning light would be 
extinguished, all untimely, when Roger Chillingworth 
made his advent to the town. His first entry on the 
scene, few people could tell whence, dropping down, 
as it were, out of the sky, or starting from the nether 
earth, had an aspect of mystery, which was easily 
heightened to the miraculous. He was now known to 
be a man of skill ; it was observed that he gathered 
herbs, and the blossoms of wild-flowers, and dug up 
roots and plucked off twigs from the forest-trees, like 
one acquainted with hidden virtues in what was value- 



144 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

less to common eyes. He was heard to speak of Sir 
Kenelm Digby, and other famous men, — whose scien- 
tific attainments were esteemed hardly less than super- 
natural, — as having been his correspondents or asso- 
ciates. Why, with such rank in the learned world, had 
he come hither? What could he, whose sphere was in 
great cities, be seeking in the wilderness ? In answer 
to this query, a rumor gained ground, — and, however 
absurd, was entertained by some very sensible people, 
— that Heaven had wrought an absolute miracle, by 
transporting an eminent Doctor of Physic, from a Ger- 
man university, bodily through the air, and setting him 
down at the door of Mr. Dimmesdale's study ! Individ- 
uals of wiser faith, indeed, who knew that Heaven pro- 
motes its purposes without aiming at the stage-effect of 
what is called miraculous interposition, were inclined to 
see a providential hand in Roger Chillingworth's so op- 
portune arrival. 

This idea was countenanced by the strong interest 
which the physician ever manifested in the young 
clergyman ; he attached himself to him as a parish- 
ioner, and sought to win a friendly regard and confi- 
dence from his naturally reserved sensibility. He ex- 
pressed great alarm at his pastor's state of health, but 
was anxious to attempt the cure, and, if early under- 
taken, seemed not despondent of a favorable result. 
The elders, the deacons, the motherly dames, and the 
young and fair maidens, of Mr. Dimmesdale's flock, 
were alike importunate that he should make trial of the 
physician's frankly offered skill. Mr. Dimmesdale gen- 
tly repelled their entreaties. 

" I need no medicine," said he. 



THE LEECH. 145 

But how could the young minister say so, when, 
with every successive Sabbath, his cheek was paler 
and thinner, and his voice more tremulous than be- 
fore, — when it had now become a constant habit, 
rather than a casual gesture, to press his hand over his 
heart ? Was he weary of his labors ? Did he wish 
to die ? These questions were solemnly propounded 
to Mr. Dimmesdale by the elder ministers of Boston 
and the deacons of his church, who, to use their own 
phrase, " dealt with him " on the sin of rejecting the 
aid which Providence so manifestly held out. He 
listened in silence, and finally promised to confer with 
the physician. 

" Were it God's will," said the Reverend Mr. Dim- 
mesdale, when, in fulfilment of this pledge, he re- 
quested old Roger Chillingworth's professional advice, 
" I could be well content, that my labors, and my sor- 
rovys, and my sins, and my pains, should shortly end 
with me, and what is earthly of them be buried in my 
grave, and the spiritual go with me to my eternal state, 
rather than that you should put your skill to the proof 
in my behalf." 

" Ah," replied Roger Chillingworth, with that quiet- 
ness which, whether imposed or natural, marked all his 
deportment, " it is thus that a young clergyman is apt 
to speak. Youthful men, not having taken a deep root, 
give up their hold of life so easily ! And saintly men, 
who walk with God on earth, would fain be away, to 
walk with him on the golden pavements of the New 
Jerusalem." 

" Nay," rejoined the young minister, putting his 
10 



146 THE SCARLET LETTER. 






hand to his heart, with a flush of pain flitting over his 
brow, " were I worthier to walk there, I could be better 
content to toil here." 

" Good men ever interpret themselves too meanly," 
said the physician. 

In this manner, the mysterious old Roger Chilling- 
worth became the medical adviser of the Reverend 
Mr. Dimmesdale. As not only the disease interested 
the physician, but he was strongly moved to look into 
the character and qualities of the patient, these two 
men, so different in age, came gradually to spend 
much time together. For the sake of the minister's 
health, and to enable the leech to gather plants with 
healing balm in them, they took long walks on the sea- 
shore, or in the forest; mingling various talk with the 
plash and murmur of the waves, and the solemn wind- 
anthem among the tree-tops. Often, likewise, one was 
the guest of the other, in his place of study and re- 
tirement. There was a fascination for the minister 
in the company of the man of science, in whom he 
recognized an intellectual cultivation of no moderate 
depth or scope ; together with a range and freedom of 
ideas, that he would have vainly looked for among the 
members of his own profession. In truth, he was star- 
tled, if not shocked, to find this attribute in the physician. 
Mr. Dimmesdale was a true priest, a true religionist, 
with the reverential sentiment largely developed, and 
an order of mind that impelled itself powerfully along 
the track of a creed, and wore its passage continually 
deeper with the lapse of time. In no state of society 
would he have been what is called a man of liberal 



THE LEECH. 147 

views ; it would always be essential to his peace to feel 
the pressure of a faith about him, supporting, while it 
confined him within its iron framework. Not the less, 
however, though with a tremulous enjoyment, did he 
feel the occasional relief of looking at the universe 
through the medium of another kind of intellect than 
those with which he habitually held converse. It was 
as if a window were thrown open, admitting a freer 
atmosphere into the close and stifled study, where his 
life was wasting itself away, amid lamp-light, or ob- 
structed day-beams, and the musty fragrance, be it 
sensual or moral, that exhales from books. But the air 
was too fresh and chill to be long breathed, with com- 
fort. So the minister, and the physician with him, with- 
drew again within the limits of what their church 
defined as orthodox. 

Thus Roger Chillingvvorth scrutinized his patient 
carefully, both as he saw him in his ordinary life, 
keeping an accustomed pathway in the range of 
thoughts familiar to him, and as he appeared when 
thrown amidst other moral scenery, the novelty of 
which might call out something new to the surface of 
his character. He deemed it essential, it would seem, 
to know the man, before attempting to do him good. 
Wherever there is a heart and an intellect, the diseases 
of the physical frame are tinged with the peculiarities 
of these. In Arthur Dimmesdale, thought and imagi- 
nation were so active, and sensibility so intense, that 
the bodily infirmity would be likely to have its ground- 
work there. So Roger Chillingworth — the man of 
skill, the kind and friendly physician — strove to go 



148 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

deep into his patient's bosom, delving among his prin- 
ciples, prying into his recollections, and probing every- 
thing with a cautious touch, like a treasure-seeker in 
a dark cavern. Few secrets can escape an investigator, 
who has opportunity and license to undertake such a 
quest, and skill to follow it up. A man burdened with 
a secret should especially avoid the intimacy of his 
physician. If the latter possess native sagacity, and a 
nameless something more, — let us call it intuition; if he 
show no intrusive egotism, nor disagreeably prominent 
characteristics of his own ; if he have the power, which 
must be born with him, to bring his mind into such 
affinity with his patient's, that this last shall unawares 
have spoken what he imagines himself only to have 
thought ; if such revelations be received without tumult, 
and acknowledged not so often by an uttered sympathy, 
as by silence, an inarticulate breath, and here and 
there a word, to indicate that all is understood ; if, to 
these qualifications of a confidant be joined the ad- 
vantages afforded by his recognized character as a 
physician ; — then, at some inevitable moment, will the 
soul of the sufferer be dissolved, and flow forth in a 
dark, but transparent stream, bringing all its mysteries 
into the daylight. 

Roger Chillingworth possessed all, or most, of the 
attributes above enumerated. Nevertheless, time went 
on ; a kind of intimacy, as we have said, grew up be- 
tween these two cultivated minds, which had as wide a 
field as the whole sphere of human thought and study, 
to meet upon ; they discussed every topic of ethics and 
religion, of public affairs, and private character ; they 



THE LEECH. 149 

talked much, on both sides, of matters that seemed 
personal to themselves ; and yet no secret, such as the 
physician fancied must exist there, ever stole out of the 
minister's consciousness into his companion's ear. The 
latter had his suspicions, indeed, that even the nature 
of Mr. Dimmesdale's bodily disease had never fairly 
been revealed to him. It was a strange reserve ! 

After a time, at a hint from Roger Chillingworth, the 
friends of Mr. Dimmesdale effected an arrangement by 
which the two were lodged in the same house ; so that 
every ebb and flow of the minister's life-tide might 
pass under the eye of his anxious and attached physi- 
cian. There was much joy throughout the town, when 
this greatly desirable object was attained. It was held 
to be the best possible measure for the young clergy- 
man's welfare ; unless, indeed, as often urged by such 
as felt authorized to do so, he had selected some one 
of- the many blooming damsels, spiritually devoted to 
him, to become his devoted wife. This latter step, 
however, there was no present prospect that Arthur 
Dimmesdale would be prevailed upon to take ; he 
rejected all suggestions of the kind, as if priestly 
celibacy were one of his articles of church-discipline. 
Doomed by his own choice, therefore, as Mr. Dimmes- 
dale so evidently was, to eat his unsavory morsel 
always at another's board, and endure the life-long chill 
which must be his lot who seeks to warm himself only 
at another's fireside, it truly seemed that this sagacious, 
experienced, benevolent, old physician, with his con- 
cord of paternal and reverential love for the young 
pastor, was the very man, of all mankind, to be con- 
stantly within reach of his voice. 



150 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 



The new abode of the two friends was with a pious 
widow, of good social rank, who dwelt in a house cov- 
ering pretty nearly the site on which the venerable 
structure of King's Chapel has since been built. It had 
the grave-yard, originally Isaac Johnson's home-field, 
on one side, and so was well adapted to call up serious 
reflections, suited to their respective employments, in 
both minister and man of physic. The motherly care 
of the good widow assigned to Mr. Dimmesdale a front 
apartment, with a sunny exposure, and heavy window- 
curtains to create a noontide shadow, when desirable. 
The walls were hung round with tapestry, said to be 
from the Gobelin looms, and, at all events, represent- 
ing the Scriptural story of David and Bathsheba, and 
Nathan the Prophet, in colors still unfaded, but which 
made the fair woman of the scene almost as grimly 
picturesque as the woe-denouncing seer. Here, the 
pale clergyman piled up his library, rich with parch- 
ment-bound folios of the Fathers, and the lore of Rab- 
bis, and monkish erudition, of which the Protestant 
divines, even while they vilified and decried that class 
of writers, were yet constrained often to avail them- 
selves. On the other side of the house, old Roger 
Chillingworth arranged his study and laboratory ; not 
such as a modern man of science would reckon even 
tolerably complete, but provided with a distilling appa- 
ratus, and the means of compounding drugs and chem- 
icals, which the practised alchemist knew well how to 
turn to purpose. With such commodiousness of situa- 
tion, these two learned persons sat themselves down, 
each in his own domain, yet familiarly passing from 



THE LEECH. 151 

one apartment to the other, and bestowing a mutual 
and not incurious inspection into one another's busi- 
ness. 

And the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale's best dis- 
cerning friends, as we have intimated, very reasonably 
imagined that the hand of Providence had c'one all this, 
for the purpose — besought in so many public, and 
domestic, and secret prayers — of restoring the young 
minister to health. But — it must now be said — another 
portion of the community had latterly begun to take its 
own view of the relation betwixt Mr. Dimmesdale and 
the mysterious old physician. When an uninstructed 
multitude attempts to see with its eyes, it is exceedingly 
apt to be deceived. When, however, it forms its judg- 
ment, as it usually does, on the intuitions of its great 
and warm heart, the conclusions thus attained are often 
so profound and so unerring, as to possess the character 
o£ truths supernaturally revealed. The people, in the 
case of which we speak, could justify its prejudice 
against Roger Chillingworth by no fact or argument 
worthy of serious refutation. There was an aged 
handicraftsman, it is true, who had been a citizen of 
London at the period of Sir Thomas Overbury's murder, 
now some thirty years agone ; he testified to having 
seen the physician, under some other name, which the 
narrator of the story had now forgotten, in company 
with Doctor Forman, the famous old conjurer, who was 
implicated in the affair of Overbury. Two or three 
individuals hinted, that the man of skill, during his 
Jndian captivity, had enlarged his medical attainments 
by joining in the incantations of the savage priests; 



152 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

/ 

who were universally acknowledged to be powerful en- 
chanters, often performing seemingly miraculous cures 
by their skill in the black art. A large number — and 
many of these were persons of such sober sense and 
practical observation, that their opinions would have 
been valuable, in other matters — affirmed that Roger 
Chillingworth's aspect had undergone a remarkable 
change while he had dwelt in town, and especially 
since his abode with Mr. Dimmesdale. At first, his 
expression had been calm, meditative, scholar-like. 
Now, there was something ugly and evil in his face, 
which they had not previously noticed, and which grew 
still the more obvious to sight, the oftener they looked 
upon him. According to the vulgar idea, the fire in 
his laboratory had been brought from the lower re- 
gions, and was fed with infernal fuel ; and so, as might 
be expected, his visage was getting sooty with the 
smoke. 

To sum up the matter, it grew to be a widely dif- 
fused opinion, that the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, 
like many other personages of especial sanctity, in all 
ages of the Christian world, was haunted either by 
Satan himself, or Satan's emissary, in the guise of old 
Roger Chillingworth. This diabolical agent had the 
Divine permission, for a season, to burrow into the 
clergyman's intimacy, and plot against his soul. No 
sensible man, it was confessed, could doubt on which 
side the victory would turn. The people looked, with 
an unshaken hope, to see the minister come forth out 
of the conflict, transfigured with the glory which he 
would unquestionably win. Meanwhile, nevertheless, 



THE LEECH. 153 

it was sad to think of the perchance mortal agony- 
through which he must struggle towards his triumph. 

Alas, to judge from the gloom and terror in the 
depths of the poor minister's eyes, the battle was a sore 
one, and the victory any thing but secure ! 



154 THE SCARLET LETTER. 



X. 

THE LEECH AND HIS PATIENT. 

Old Roger Chillingworth, throughout life, had been 
calm in temperament, kindly, though not of warm 
affections, but ever, and in all his relations with the 
world, a pure and upright man. He had begun an in- 
vestigation, as he imagined, with the severe and equal 
integrity of a judge, desirous only of truth, even as if 
the question involved no more than the air-drawn lines 
and figures of a geometrical problem, instead of human 
passions, and wrongs inflicted on himself. But, as he 
proceeded, a terrible fascination, a kind of fierce, 
though still calm, necessity seized the old man within 
its gripe, and never set him free again, until he had 
done all its bidding. He now dug into the poor clergy- 
man's heart, like a miner searching for gold ; or, rather, 
like a sexton delving into a grave, possibly in quest of 
a jewel that had been buried on the dead man's bosom, 
but likely to find nothing save mortality and corruption. 
Alas for his own soul, if these were what he sought! 

Sometimes, a light glimmered out of the physician's 
eyes, burning blue and ominous, like the reflection of 
a furnace, or, let us say, like one of those gleams of 
ghastly fire that darted from Bunyan's awful door- 
way in the hill-side, and quivered on the pilgrim's face. 



THE LEECH AND HIS PATIENT. 155 

The soil where this dark miner was working had per- 
chance shown indications that encouraged him. 

" This man, 1 ' said he, at one such moment, to him- 
self, " pure as they deem him, — all spiritual as he 
seems, — hath inherited a strong animal nature from 
his father or his mother. Let us dig a little farther in 
the direction of this vein ! " 

Then, after long search into the minister's dim in- 
terior, and turning over many precious materials, in the 
shape of high aspirations for the welfare of his race, 
warm love of souls, pure sentiments, natural piety, 
strengthened by thought and study, and illuminated by 
revelation, — all of which invaluable gold was perhaps 
no better than rubbish to the seeker, — he would turn 
back, discouraged, and begin his quest towards another 
point. He groped along as stealthily, with as cautious 
a tread, and as wary an outlook, as a thief entering a 
chamber where a man lies only half asleep, — or, it 
may be, broad awake, — with purpose to steal the very 
treasure which this man guards as the apple of his eye. 
In spite of his premeditated carefulness, the floor would 
now and then creak ; his garments would rustle ; the 
shadow of his presence, in a forbidden proximity, 
would be thrown across his victim. In other words, 
Mr. Dimmesdale, whose sensibility of nerve often pro- 
duced the effect of spiritual intuition, would become 
vaguely aware that something inimical to his peace 
had thrust itself into relation with him. But old Roger 
Chillingworth, too, had perceptions that were almost 
intuitive ; and when the minister threw his startled eyes 
towards him, there the physician sat; his kind, watch- 
ful, sympathizing, but never intrusive friend. 



156 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

Yet Mr. Dimmesdale would perhaps have seen this 
individual's character more perfectly, if a certa'm 
morbidness, to which sick hearts are liable, had not 
rendered him suspicious of all mankind. Trusting no 
man as his friend, he could not recognize his enemy 
when the latter actually appeared. He therefore still 
kept up a familiar intercourse with him, daily receiving 
the old physician in his study ; or visiting the labora- 
tory, and, for recreation's sake, watching the processes 
by which weeds were converted into drugs of potency. 

One day, leaning his forehead on his hand, and 
his elbow on the sill of the open window, that looked 
towards the grave-yard, he talked with Roger Chilling- 
worth, while the old man was examining a bundle of 
unsightly plants. 

" Where," asked he, with a look askance at them, — 
for it was the clergyman's peculiarity that he seldom, 
now-a-days, looked straightforth at any object, whether 
human or inanimate, — "where, my kind doctor, did 
you gather those herbs, with such a dark, flabby leaf? " 

" Even in the grave-yard, here at hand," answered 
the physician, continuing his employment. " They are 
new to me. I found them growing on a grave, which 
bore no tombstone, nor other memorial of the dead 
man, save these ugly weeds that have taken upon them- 
selves to keep him in remembrance. They grew out 
of his heart, and typify, it may be, some hideous secret 
that was buried with him, and which he had done better 
to confess during his lifetime." 

" Perchance," said Mr. Dimmesdale, " he earnestly 
desired it, but could not." 



THE LEECH AND HIS PATIENT. 157 

"And wherefore?" rejoined the physician. " Where- 
fore not ; since all the powers of nature call so earnest- 
Fy for the confession of sin, that these black weeds 
have sprung up out of a buried heart, to make manifest 
an unspoken crime ? " 

" That, good Sir, is but a fantasy of yours," replied 
the minister. " There can be, if I forebode aright, no 
power, short of the Divine mercy, to disclose, whether 
by uttered words, or by type or emblem, the secrets 
that may be buried with a human heart. The heart, 
making itself guilty of such secrets, must perforce 
hold them, until the day when all hidden things shall 
be revealed. Nor have I so read or interpreted Holy 
Writ, as to understand that the disclosure of human 
thoughts and deeds, then to be made, is intended as a 
part of the retribution. That, surely, were a shallow 
view of it. No ; these revelations, unless I greatly 
err, are meant merely to promote the intellectual satis- 
faction of all intelligent beings, who will stand waiting, 
on that day, to see the dark problem of this life made 
plain. A knowledge of men's hearts will be needful 
to the completest solution of that problem. And I con- 
ceive, moreover, that the hearts holding such miserable 
secrets as you speak of will yield them up, at that last 
day, not with reluctance, but with a joy unutterable." 

" Then why not reveal them here ? " asked Roger 
Chillingworth, glancing quietly aside at the minister. 
" Why should not the guilty ones sooner avail them- 
selves of this unutterable solace ? " 

" They mostly do," said the clergyman, griping 
hard at his breast, as if afflicted with an importunate 



158 THE SCAKLET LETTER. 






throb of pain. " Many, many a poor soul hath given 
its confidence to me, not only on the death-bed, but 
while strong in life, and fair in reputation. And ever, 
after such an outpouring, O, what a relief have I wit- 
nessed in those sinful brethren ! even as in one who at 
last draws free air, after long stifling with his own 
polluted breath. How can it be otherwise ? Why 
should a wretched man, guilty, we will say, of murder, 
prefer to keep the dead corpse buried in his own heart, 
rather than fling it forth at once, and let the universe 
take care of it ! " 

" Yet some men bury their secrets thus," observed 
the calm physician. 

" True ; there are such men," answered Mr. Dim- 
mesdale. " But, not to suggest more obvious reasons, 
it may be that they are kept silent by the very consti- 
tution of their nature. Or, — can we not suppose it ? — 
guilty as they may be, retaining, nevertheless, a zeal 
for God's glory and man's welfare, they shrink from 
displaying themselves black and filthy in the view of 
men ; because, thenceforward, no good can be achieved 
by them ; no evil of the past be redeemed by better 
service. So, to their own unutterable torment, they go 
about among their fellow-creatures, looking pure as 
new-fallen snow ; while their hearts are all speckled 
and spotted with iniquity of which they cannot rid them- 
selves." 

" These men deceive themselves," said Roger Chil- 
lingworth, with somewhat more emphasis than usual, 
and making a slight gesture with his forefinger. " They 
fear to take up the shame that rightfully belongs to 



THE LEECH AND HIS PATIENT. 159 

them. Their love for man, their zeal for God's ser- 
vice, — these holy impulses may or may not coexist in 
their hearts with the evil inmates to which their guilt 
has unbarred the door, and which must needs propagate 
a hellish breed within them. But, if they seek to glo- 
rify God, let them not lift heavenward their unclean 
hands ! If they would serve their fellow-men, let 
them do it by making manifest the power and reality of 
conscience, in constraining them to penitential self- 
abasement ! Wouldst thou have me to believe, O wise 
and pious friend, that a false show can be better — can 
.be more for God's glory, or man's welfare — than 
God's own truth ? Trust me, such men deceive them- 
selves ! " 

i "It may be so," said the young clergyman indiffer- 
ently, as waiving a discussion that he considered irrele- 
vant or unseasonable. He had a ready faculty, indeed, 
of escaping from any topic that agitated his too sensi- 
tive and nervous temperament. — " But, now, I would 
ask of my well-skilled physician, whether, in good 
sooth, he deems me to have profited by his kindly care 
of this weak frame of mine ? " 

Before Roger Chillingworth could answer, they heard 
the clear, wild laughter of a young child's voice, pro- 
ceeding from the adjacent burial-ground. Looking 
instinctively from the open window, — for it was sum- 
mer-time, — the minister beheld Hester Prynne and 
little Pearl passing along the footpath that traversed the 
inclosure. Pearl looked as beautiful as the day, but 
was in one of those moods of perverse merriment 
which, whenever they occurred, seemed to remove her 



160 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

entirely out of the sphere of sympathy or human con- 
tact. She now skipped irreverently from one grave to 
another ; until, coming to the broad flat, armorial tomb- 
stone of a departed worthy, — perhaps of Isaac John- 
son himself, — she began to dance upon it. In reply to 
her mother's command and entreaty that she would be- 
have more decorously, little Pearl paused to gather the 
prickly burrs from a tall burdock, which grew beside the 
tomb. Taking a handful of these, she arranged them 
along the lines of the scarlet letter that decorated the 
maternal bosom, to which the burrs, as their nature 
was, tenaciously adhered. Hester did not pluck them 
off. 

Roger Chillingworth had by this time approached 
the window, and smiled grimly down. 

" There is no law, nor reverence for authority, no 
regard for human ordinances or opinions, right or 
wrong, mixed up with that child's composition," re-J 
marked he, as much to himself as to his companion. 
"I saw her, the other day, bespatter the Governor 
himself with water, at the cattle-trough in Spring Lane. 
What, in Heaven's name, is she ? Is the imp alto- 
gether evil ? Hath she affections ? Hath she any dis- 
coverable principle of being ? " 

" None, — save the freedom of a broken law," an- 
swered Mr. Dimmesdale, in a quiet way, as if he had 
been discussing the point within himself. " Whether 
capable of good, I know not." 

The child probably overheard their voices ; for, look- 
ing up to the window, with a bright, but naughty smile 
of mirth and intelligence, she threw one of the prickly 



THE LEECH AND HIS PATIENT. 161 

burrs at the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale. The sensitive 
clergyman shrunk, with nervous dread, from the light 
missile. Detecting his emotion, Pearl clapped her little 
hands in the most extravagant ecstasy. Hester Prynne, 
likewise, had involuntarily looked up ; and all these 
four persons, old and young, regarded one another in 
silence, till the child laughed aloud, and shouted, — 
"Come away, mother! Come away, or yonder old 
Black Man will catch you ! He hath got hold of the 
minister already. Come away, mother, or he will catch 
you ! But he cannot catch little Pearl ! " 

So she drew her mother away, skipping, dancing, 
and frisking fantastically among the hillocks of the 
dead people, like a creature that had nothing in com- 
mon with a bygone and buried generation, nor owned 
herself akin to it. It was as if she had been made 
afresh, out of new elements, and must perforce be per- 
mitted to live her own life, and be a law unto herself, 
without her eccentricities being reckoned to her for a 
crime. 

" There goes a woman," resumed Roger Chilling- 
worth, after a pause, " who, be her demerits what they 
may, hath none of that mystery of hidden sinfulness 
which you deem so grievous to be borne. Is Hester 
Prynne the less miserable, think you, for that scarlet 
letter on her breast ? " 

" I do verily believe it," answered the clergyman. 
" Nevertheless, I cannot answer for her. There was 
a look of pain in her face, which I would gladly have 
been spared the sight of. But still, methinks, it must 
needs be better for the sufferer to be free to show his 
11 



162 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

pain, as this poor woman Hester is, than to cover it all 
up in his heart." 

There was another pause ; and the physician began 
anew to examine and arrange the plants which he had 
gathered. 

" You inquired of me, a little time agone," said he, 
at length, " my judgment as touching your health." 

" I did," answered the clergyman, " and would glad- 
ly learn it. Speak frankly, I pray you, be it for life or 
death." 

" Freely, then, and plainly," said the physician, still 
busy with his plants, but keeping a wary eye on Mr. 
Dimmesdale, " the disorder is a strange one ; not so 
much in itself, nor as outwardly manifested, — in so 
far, at least, as the symptoms have been laid open to 
my observation. Looking daily at you, my good Sir, 
and watching the tokens of your aspect, now for months 
gone by, I should deem you a man sore sick, it may be, 
yet not so sick but that an instructed and watchful phy- 
sician might well hope to cure you. But — I know not 
what to say — the disease is what I seem to know, yet 
know it not." 

" You speak in riddles, learned Sir," said the pale 
minister, glancing aside out of the window. 

" Then, to speak more plainly," continued the phy- 
sician, " and I crave pardon, Sir, — should it seem to 
require pardon, — for this needful plainness of my 
speech. Let me ask, — as your friend, — as one hav- 
ing charge, under Providence, of your life and physical 
well-being, — hath all the operation of this disorder been 
fairly laid open and recounted to me ? " 



THE LEECH AND HIS PATIENT. 163 

" How can you question it ? " asked the minister. 
I Surely, it were child's play to call in a physician, 
and then hide the sore ! " 

" You would tell me, then, that I know all ? " said 
Roger Chillingworth, deliberately, and fixing an eye, 
bright with intense and concentrated intelligence, on 
the minister's face. " Be it so ! But, again ! He 
to whom only the outward and physical evil is laid 
open knoweth, oftentimes, but half the evil which he 
is called upon to cure. A bodily disease, which we 
look upon as whole and entire within itself, may, after 
all, be but a symptom of some ailment in the spiritual 
part. Your pardon, once again, good Sir, if my speech 
give the shadow of offence. You, Sir, of all men 
whom I have known, are he whose body is the closest 
conjoined, and imbued, and identified, so to speak, 
with the spirit whereof it is the instrument." 

" Then I need ask no further," said the clergyman, 
somewhat hastily rising from his chair. " You deal not, 
I take it, in medicine for the soul ! " 

" Thus, a sickness," continued Roger Chillingworth, 
going on, in an unaltered tone, without heeding the 
interruption, — but standing up, and confronting the 
emaciated and white-cheeked minister with his low, 
dark, and misshapen figure, — "a sickness, a sore 
place, if we may so call it, in your spirit, hath imme- 
diately its appropriate manifestation in your bodily 
frame. Would you, therefore, that your physician heal 
the bodily evil ? How may this be, unless you first 
lay open to him the wound or trouble in your soul ? " 

" No ! — not to thee ! — not to an earthly physi- 



164 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

cian ! " cried Mr. Dimmesdale, passionately, and turn- 
ing his eyes, full and bright, and with a kind of fierce- 
ness, on old Roger Chillingworth. " Not to thee ! 
But, if it be the soul's disease, then do I commit my- 
self to the one Physician of the soul ! He, if it stand 
with his good pleasure, can cure ; or he can kill ! Let 
him do with me as, in his justice and wisdom, he shall 
see good. But who art thou, that meddlest in this mat- 
ter ? — that dares thrust himself between the sufferer 
and his God?" 

With a frantic gesture, he rushed out of the room. 

" It is as well to have made this step," said Roger 
Chillingworth to himself, looking after the minister with 
a grave smile. " There is nothing lost. We shall be 
friends again anon. But see, now, how passion takes 
hold upon this man, and hurrieth him out of himself! 
As with one passion, so with another ! He hath done 
a wild thing ere now, this pious Master Dimmesdale, 
in the hot passion of his heart ! " 

It proved not difficult to reestablish the intimacy of 
the two companions, on the same footing and in the 
same degree as heretofore. The young clergyman, 
after a few hours of privacy, was sensible that the 
disorder of his nerves had hurried him into an un- 
seemly outbreak of temper, which there had been 
nothing in the physician's words to excuse or palliate. 
He marvelled, indeed, at the violence with which he 
had thrust back the kind old man, when merely proffer- 
ing the advice which it was his duty to bestow, and 
which the minister himself had expressly sought. With 
these remorseful feelings, he lost no time in making 



THE LEECH AND HIS PATIENT. 165 

the amplest apologies, and besought his friend still to 
continue the care, which, if not successful in restoring 
him to health, had, in all probability, been the means 
of prolonging his feeble existence to that hour. Roger 
Chill ingworth readily assented, and went on with his 
medical supervision of the minister ; doing his best for 
him, in all good faith, but always quitting the patient's 
apartment, at the close of a professional interview, with 
a mysterious and puzzled smile upon his lips. This ex- 
pression was invisible in Mr. Dimmesdale's presence, 
but grew strongly evident as the physician crossed the 
threshold. 

" A rare case ! " he muttered. " I must needs look 
deeper into it. A strange sympathy betwixt soul and 
body ! Were it only for the art's sake, I must search 
this matter to the bottom ! " 

It came to pass, not long after the scene above re- 
corded, that the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale, at noon- 
day, and entirely unawares, fell into a deep, deep slum- 
ber, sitting in his chair, with a large black-letter vol- 
ume open before him on the table. It must have been 
a work of vast ability in the somniferous school of lit- 
erature. The profound depth of the minister's repose 
was the more remarkable ; inasmuch as he was one of 
those persons whose sleep, ordinarily, is as light, as 
fitful, and as easily scared away, as a small bird hop- 
ping on a twig. To such an unwonted remoteness, 
however, had his spirit now withdrawn into itself, that 
he stirred not in his chair, when old Roger Chilling- 
worth, without any extraordinary precaution, came into 
the room. The physician advanced directly in front 



166 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

of his patient, laid his hand upon his bosom, and thrust 
aside the vestment, that, hitherto, had always covered 
it even from the professional eye. 

Then, indeed, Mr. Dimmesdale shuddered, and slight- 
ly stirred. 

After a brief pause, the physician turned away. 

But with what a wild look of wonder, joy, and 
horror ! With what a ghastly rapture, as it were, too 
mighty to be expressed only by the eye and features, 
and therefore bursting forth through the whole ugliness 
of his figure, and making itself even riotously manifest 
by the extravagant gestures with which he threw up 
his arms towards the ceiling, and stamped his foot upon 
the floor ! Had a man seen old Roger Chillingworth, 
at that moment of his ecstasy, he would have had no 
need to ask how Satan comports himself, when a pre- 
cious human soul is lost to heaven, and won into his 
kingdom. 

But what distinguished the physician's ecstasy from 
Satan's was the trait of wonder in it ! 



THE INTERIOR OF A HEART. 167 

/ 



XI. 

THE INTERIOR OF A HEART. 

After the incident last described, the intercourse 
between the clergyman and the physician, though ex- 
ternally the same, was really of another character than 
it had previously been. The intellect of Roger Chil- 
lingworth had now a sufficiently plain path before it. 
It was not, indeed, precisely that which he had laid out 
for himself to tread. Calm, gentle, passionless, as he 
appeared, there was yet, we fear, a quiet depth of 
malice, hitherto latent, but active now, in this unfortu- 
nate old man, which led him to imagine a more inti- 
mate revenge than any mortal had ever wreaked upon 
an enemy. To make himself the one trusted friend, 
to whom should be confided all the fear, the remorse, 
the agony, the ineffectual repentance, the backward 
rush of sinful thoughts, expelled in vain ! All that 
guilty sorrow, hidden from the world, whose great heart 
would have pitied and forgiven, to be revealed to him, 
the Pitiless, to him, the Unforgiving ! All that dark 
treasure to be lavished on the very man, to whom 
nothing else could so adequately pay the debt of ven- 
geance ! 

The clergyman's shy and sensitive reserve had 
balked this scheme. Roger Chillingworth, however, 



168 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 



was inclined to be hardly, if at all, less satisfied with 
the aspect of affairs, which Providence — using the 
avenger and his victim for its own purposes, and, per- 
chance, pardoning, where it seemed most to punish — 
had substituted for his black devices. A revelation, he 
could almost say, had been granted to him. It mattered 
little, for his object, whether celestial, or from what 
other region. By its aid, in all the subsequent relations 
betwixt him and Mr. Dimmesdale, not merely the exter- 
nal presence, but the very inmost soul of the latter 
seemed to be brought out before his eyes, so that he 
could see and comprehend its every movement. He 
became, thenceforth, not a spectator only, but a chief 
actor, in the poor minister's interior world. He could 
play upon him as he chose. Would he arouse him 
with a throb of agony ? The victim was for ever on 
the rack ; it needed only to know the spring that con- 
trolled the engine ; — and the physician knew it well ! 
Would he startle him with sudden fear? As at the 
waving of a magician's wand, uprose a grisly phantom, 
— uprose a thousand phantoms, — in many shapes, of 
death, or more awful shame, all flocking round about 
the clergyman, and pointing with their fingers at his 
breast ! 

All this was accomplished with a subtlety so perfect, 
that the minister, though he had constantly a dim per- 
ception of some evil influence watching over him, could 
never gain a knowledge of its actual nature. True, 
he looked doubtfully, fearfully, — even, at times, with 
horror and the bitterness of hatred, — at the deformed 
figure of the old physician. His gestures, his gait, his 



THE INTERIOR OF A HEART. 169 

grizzled beard, his slightest and most indifferent acts, 
the very fashion of his garments, were odious in the 
clergyman's sight ; a token, implicitly to be relied on, 
of a deeper antipathy in the breast of the latter than 
he was willing to acknowledge to himself. For, as it 
was impossible to assign a reason for such distrust and 
abhorrence, so Mr. Dimmesdale, conscious that the poi- 
son of one morbid spot was infecting his heart's entire 
substance, attributed all his presentiments to no other 
cause. He took himself to task for his bad sympathies 
in reference to Roger Chillingworth, disregarded the 
lesson that he should have drawn from them, and did 
his best to root them out. Unable to accomplish this, 
he nevertheless, as a matter of principle, continued his 
habits of social familiarity with the old man, and thus 
gave him constant opportunities for perfecting the pur- 
pose to which — poor, 'forlorn creature that he was, and 
more wretched than hfs victim — the avenger had de- 
voted himself. 

While thus suffering under bodily disease, and gnaw- 
ed and tortured by some black trouble of the soul, and 
given over to the machinations of his deadliest enemy, 
the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale had achieved a brilliant 
popularity in his sacred office. He won it, indeed, in 
great part, by his sorrows. His intellectual gifts, his 
moral perceptions, his power of experiencing and com- 
municating emotion, were kept in a state of preternatural 
activity by the prick and anguish of his daily life. 
His fame, though still on its upward slope, already 
overshadowed the soberer reputations of his fellow- 
clergymen, eminent as several of them were. There 



170 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

were scholars among them, who had spent more years 
in acquiring abstruse lore, connected with the divine 
profession, than Mr. Dimmesdale had lived ; and who 
might well, therefore, be more profoundly versed in 
such solid and valuable attainments than their youthful 
brother. There were men, too, of a sturdier texture of 
mind than his, and endowed with a far greater share of 
shrewd, hard, iron or granite understanding ; which, 
duly mingled with a fair proportion of doctrinal ingre- 
dient, constitutes a highly respectable, efficacious, and 
unamiable variety of the clerical species. There were 
others, again, true saintly fathers, whose faculties had 
been elaborated by weary toil among their books, and by 
patient thought, and etherealized, moreover, by spiritual 
communications with the better world, into which their 
purity of life had almost introduced these holy person- 
ages, with their garments of mortality still clinging to 
them. All that they lacked was the gift that descended 
upon the chosen disciples, at Pentecost, in tongues of 
flame ; symbolizing, it would seem, not the power of 
speech in foreign and unknown languages, but that of 
addressing the whole human brotherhood in the heart's 
native language. These fathers, otherwise so apos- 
tolic, lacked Heaven's last and rarest attestation of their 
office, the Tongue of Flame. They would have vainly 
sought — had they ever dreamed of seeking — to ex- 
press the highest truths through the humblest medium 
of familiar words and images. Their voices came 
down, afar and indistinctly, from the upper heights 
where they habitually dwelt. 

Not improbably, it was to this latter class of men that 



THE INTERIOR OF A HEART. 171 

Mr. Dimmesdale, by many of his traits of character, 
naturally belonged. To their high mountain-peaks of 
faith and sanctity he would have climbed, had not the 
tendency been thwarted by the burden, whatever it 
might be, of crime or anguish, beneath which it was his 
doom to totter. It kept him down, on a level with the 
lowest ; him, the man of ethereal attributes, whose 
voice the angels might else have listened to and an- 
swered ! But this very burden it was, that gave him 
sympathies so intimate with the sinful brotherhood of 
mankind ; so that his heart vibrated in unison with 
theirs, and received their pain into itself, and sent its 
own throb of pain through a thousand other hearts, in 
gushes of sad, persuasive eloquence. Oftenest persua- 
sive, but sometimes terrible ! The people knew not 
the power that moved them thus. They deemed the 
young clergyman a miracle of holiness. They fancied 
him the mouth-piece of Heaven's messages of wisdom, 
and rebuke, and love. In their eyes, the very ground 
on which he trod was sanctified. The virgins of his 
church grew pale around him, victims of a passion so 
imbued with religious sentiment that they imagined it 
to be all religion, and brought it openly, in their white 
bosoms, as their most acceptable sacrifice before the 
altar. The aged members of his flock, beholding Mr. 
Dimmesdale's frame so feeble, while they were them- 
selves so rugged in their infirmity, believed that he 
would go heavenward before them, and enjoined it 
upon their children, that their old bones should be bur- 
ied close to their young pastor's holy grave. And, all 
this time, perchance, when poor Mr. Dimmesdale was 



172 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 



thinking of his grave, he questioned with himself 
whether the grass would ever grow on it, because an 
accursed thing must there be buried ! 

It is inconceivable, the agony with which this public 
veneration tortured him ! It was his genuine impulse 
to adore the truth, and to reckon all things shadow-like, 
and utterly devoid of weight or value, that had not its 
divine essence as the life within their life. Then, what 
was he ? — a substance ? — or the dimmest of all shad- 
ows ? He longed to speak out, from his own pulpit, at 
the full height of his voice, and tell the people what he 
was. " I, whom you behold in these black garments of 
the priesthood, — I, who ascend the sacred desk, and 
turn my pale face heavenward, taking upon myself to 
hold communion, in your behalf, with the Most High 
Omniscience, — I, in whose daily life you discern the 
sanctity of Enoch, — I, whose footsteps, as you sup- 
pose, leave a gleam along my earthly track, whereby 
the pilgrims that shall come after me may be guided 
to the regions of the blest, — I, who have laid the hand 
of baptism upon your children, — I, who have breathed 
the parting prayer over your dying friends, to whom 
the Amen sounded faintly from a world which they had 
quitted, — I, your pastor, whom you so reverence and 
trust, am utterly a pollution and a lie ! " 

More than once, Mr. Dimmesdale had gone into the 
pulpit, with a purpose never to come down its steps, 
until he should have spoken words like the above. 
More than once, he had cleared his throat, and drawn 
in the long, deep, and tremulous breath, which, when 
sent forth again, would come burdened with the black 



THE INTERIOR OF A HEART. 173 

secret of his soul. More than once — nay, more than 
a hundred times — he had actually spoken ! Spoken ! 
But how ? He had told his hearers that he was alto- 
gether vile, a viler companion of the vilest, the worst 
of sinners, an abomination, a thing of unimaginable 
iniquity ; and that the only wonder was, that they did 
not see his wretched body shrivelled up before their 
eyes, by the burning wrath of the Almighty ! Could 
there be plainer speech than this ? Would not the 
people start up in their seats, by a simultaneous im- 
pulse, and tear him down out of the pulpit which he 
defiled ? Not so, indeed ! They heard it all, and did 
but reverence him the more. They little guessed what 
deadly purport lurked in those self-condemning words. 
| The godly youth ! " said they among themselves. 
I The saint on earth ! Alas, if he discern such sin- 
fulness in his own white soul, what horrid spectacle 
would he behold in thine or mine ! " The minister 
well knew — subtle, but remorseful hypocrite that he 
was ! — the light in which his vague confession would 
be viewed. He had striven to put a cheat upon him- 
self by making the avowal of a guilty conscience, but 
had gained only one other sin, and a self-acknowledged 
shame, without the momentary relief of being self- 
deceived. He had spoken the very truth, and trans- 
formed it into the veriest falsehood. And yet, by the 
constitution of his nature, he loved the truth, and 
loathed the lie, as few men ever did. Therefore, 
above all things else, he loathed his miserable self! 

His inward trouble drove him to practices, more in 
accordance with the old, corrupted faith of Rome, than 



174 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

with the better light of the church in which he had 
been born and bred. In Mr. Dimmesdale's secret 
closet, under lock and key, there was a bloody scourge. 
Oftentimes, this Protestant and Puritan divine had plied 
it on his own shoulders ; laughing bitterly at himself 
the while, and smiting so much the more pitilessly, be- 
cause of that bitter laugh. It was his custom, too, as 
it has been that of many other pious Puritans, to fast, 

— not, however, like them, in order to purify the body 
and render it the fitter medium of celestial illumination, 

— but rigorously, and until his knees trembled beneath 
him, as an act of penance. He kept vigils, likewise, 
night after night, sometimes in utter darkness ; some- 
times with a glimmering lamp ; and sometimes, view- 
ing his own face in a looking-glass, by the most power- 
ful light which he could throw upon it. He thus 
typified the constant introspection wherewith he tor- 
tured, but could not purify, himself. In these lengthened 
vigils, his brain often reeled, and visions seemed to flit 
before him ; perhaps seen doubtfully, and by a faint 
light of their own, in the remote dimness of the cham- 
ber, or more vividly, and close beside him, within the 
looking-glass. Now it was a herd of diabolic shapes, 
that grinned and mocked at the pale minister, and 
beckoned him away with them ; now a group of shining 
angels, who flew upward heavily, as sorrow-laden, but 
grew more ethereal as they rose. Now came the dead 
friends of his youth, and his white-bearded father, with 
a saint-like frown, and his mother, turning her face 
away as she passed by. Ghost of a mother, — thin- 
nest fantasy of a mother, — methinks she might yet 



THE INTERIOR OF A HEART. 175 

have thrown a pitying glance towards her son ! And 
now, through the chamber which these spectral thoughts 
had made so ghastly, glided Hester Prynne, leading 
along little Pearl, in her scarlet garb, and pointing her 
forefinger, first, at the scarlet letter on her bosom, and 
then at the clergyman's own breast. 

None of these visions ever quite deluded him. At 
any moment, by an effort of his will, he could discern 
substances through their misty lack of substance, and 
convince himself that they were not solid in their 
nature, like yonder table of carved oak, or that big, 
square, leathern-bound and brazen-clasped volume of 
divinity. But, for all that, they were, in one sense, 
the truest and most substantial things which the poor 
minister now dealt with. It is the unspeakable misery 
of a life so false as his, that it steals the pith and sub- 
stance out of whatever realities there are around us, 
and which were meant by Heaven to be the spirit's joy 
and nutriment. To the untrue man, the whole universe 
is false, — it is impalpable, — it shrinks to nothing with- 
in his grasp. And he himself, in so far as he shows 
himself in a false light, becomes a shadow, or, indeed, 
ceases to exist. The only truth, that continued to give 
Mr. Dimmesdale a real existence on this earth, was the 
anguish in his inmost soul, and the undissembled ex- 
pression of it in his aspect. Had he once found power 
to smile, and wear a face of gayety, there would have 
been no such man ! 

On one of those ugly nights, which we have faintly 
hinted at, but forborne to picture forth, the minister 
started from his chair. A new thought had struck him. 



176 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

There might be a moment's peace in it. Attiring him- 
self with as much care as if it had been for public 
worship, and precisely in the same manner, he stole 
softly down the staircase, undid the door, and issued 
forth. 



THE MINISTER'S VIGIL. 177 



XII. 

THE MINISTER'S VIGIL. 

Walking in the shadow of a dream, as it were, and 
perhaps actually under the influence of a species of 
somnambulism, Mr. Dimmesdale reached the spot, 
where, now so long since, Hester Prynne had lived 
through her first hour of public ignominy. The same 
platform or scaffold, black and weather-stained with 
the storm or sunshine of seven long years, and foot- 
worn, too, with the tread of many culprits who had 
since ascended it, remained standing beneath the bal- 
cony of the meeting-house. The minister went up the 
steps. 

It was an obscure night of early May. An unvaried 
pall of cloud muffled the whole expanse of sky from 
zenith to horizon. If the same multitude which had 
stood as eyewitnesses while Hester Prynne sustained 
her punishment could now have been summoned forth, 
they would have discerned no face above the platform, 
nor hardly the outline of a human shape, in the dark 
gray of the midnight. But the town was all asleep. 
There was no peril of discovery. The minister might 
stand there, if it so pleased him, until morning should 
redden in the east, without other risk than that the dank 
and chill night-air would creep into his frame, and 
12 



178 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

stiffen his joints with rheumatism, and clog his throat 
with catarrh and cough ; thereby defrauding the expec- 
tant audience of to-morrow's prayer and sermon. No 
eye could see him, save that ever- wakeful one which 
had seen him in his closet, wielding the bloody scourge. 
Why, then, had he come hither ? Was it but the mock- 
ery of penitence ? A mockery, indeed, but in which 
his soul trifled with itself ! A mockery at which angels 
blushed and wept, while fiends rejoiced, with jeering 
laughter ! He had been driven hither by the impulse 
of that Remorse which dogged him everywhere, and 
whose own sister and closely linked companion was 
that Cowardice which invariably drew him back, with 
her tremulous gripe, just when the other impulse had 
hurried him to the verge of a disclosure. Poor, miser- 
able man ! what right had infirmity like his to burden 
itself with crime ? Crime is for the iron-nerved, who 
have their choice either to endure it, or, if it press too 
hard, to exert their fierce and savage strength for a 
good purpose, and fling it off at once ! This feeble and 
most sensitive of spirits could do neither, yet continu- 
ally did one thing or another, which intertwined, in the 
same inextricable knot, the agony of heaven-defying 
guilt and vain repentance. 

And thus, while standing on the scaffold, in this vain 
show of expiation, Mr. Dimmesdale was overcome with 
a great horror of mind, as if the universe were gazing 
at a scarlet token on his naked breast, right over his 
heart. On that spot, in very truth, there was, and 
there had long been, the gnawing and poisonous tooth 
of bodily pain. Without any effort of his will, or 



THE MINISTER'S VIGIL. 179 

power to restrain himself, he shrieked aloud ; an outcry- 
that went pealing through the night, and was beaten 
back from one house to another, and reverberated from 
the hills in the background ; as if a company of devils, 
detecting so much misery and terror in it, had made a 
plaything of the sound, and were bandying it to and 
fro. 

" It is done ! " muttered the minister, covering his 
face with his hands. " The whole town will awake, 
and hurry forth, and find me here ! " 

But it was not so. The shriek had perhaps sounded 
with a far greater power, to his own startled ears, than 
it actually possessed. The town did not awake ; or, if 
it did, the drowsy slumberers mistook the cry either for 
something frightful in a dream, or for the noise of 
witches ; whose voices, at that period, were often heard 
to pass over the settlements or lonely cottages, as they 
rode with Satan through the air. The clergyman, 
therefore, hearing no symptoms of disturbance, un- 
covered his eyes and looked about him. At one of the 
chamber-windows of Governor Bellingham's mansion, 
which stood at some distance, on the line of another 
street, he beheld the appearance of the old magistrate 
himself, with a lamp in his hand, a white night-cap on 
his head, and a long white gown enveloping his figure. 
He looked like a ghost, evoked unseasonably from the 
grave. The cry had evidently startled him. At another 
window of the same house, moreover, appeared old 
Mistress Hibbins, the Governor's sister, also with a 
lamp, which, even thus far off, revealed the expression 
of her sour and discontented face. She thrust forth 



ISO THE SCARLET LETTER. 

her head from the lattice, and looked anxiously upward. 
Beyond the shadow of a doubt, this venerable witch- 
lady had heard Mr. Dimmesdale's outcry, and inter- 
preted it, with its multitudinous echoes and reverbera- 
tions, as the clamor of the fiends and night-hags, with 
whom she was well known to make excursions into the 
forest. 

Detecting the gleam of Governor Bellingham's lamp, 
the old lady quickly extinguished her own, and van- 
ished. Possibly, she went up among the clouds. The 
minister saw nothing further of her motions. The 
magistrate, after a wary observation of the darkness — 
into which, nevertheless, he could see but little farther 
than he might into a mill-stone — retired from the 
window. 

The minister grew comparatively calm. His eyes, 
however, were soon greeted by a little, glimmering light, 
which, at first a long way off, was approaching up the 
street. It threw a gleam of recognition on here a post, 
and there a garden-fence, and here a latticed window- 
pane, and there a pump, with its full trough of water, 
and here, again, an arched door of oak, with an iron 
knocker, and a rough log for the door-step. The Rev- 
erend Mr. Dimmesdale noted all these minute particu- 
lars, even while firmly convinced that the doom of his 
existence was stealing onward, in the footsteps which 
he now heard ; and that the gleam of the lantern would 
fall upon him, in a few moments more, and reveal his 
long-hidden secret. As the light drew nearer, he be- 
held, within its illuminated circle, his brother clergy- 
man, — or, to speak more accurately, his professional 



181 



father, as well as highly valued friend, — the Reverend 
Mr. Wilson ; who, as Mr. Dimmesdale now conjec- 
tured, had been praying at the bedside of some dying 
man. And so he had. The good old minister came 
freshly from the death-chamber of Governor Winthrop, 
who had passed from 'earth to heaven within that very 
hour. And now, surrounded, like the saint-like person- 
ages of olden times, with a radiant halo, that glorified 
him amid this gloomy night of sin, — as if the departed 
Governor had left him an inheritance of his glory, or 
as if he had caught upon himself the distant shine of 
the celestial city, while looking thitherward to see the 
triumphant pilgrim pass within its gates, — now, in 
short, good Father Wilson was moving homeward, aid- 
ing his footsteps with a lighted lantern ! The glimmer 
of this luminary suggested the above conceits to Mr. 
Dimmesdale, who smiled, — nay, almost laughed at 
them, — and then wondered if he were going mad. 

As the Reverend Mr. Wilson passed beside the scaf- 
fold, closely muffling his Geneva cloak about him with 
one arm, and holding the lantern before his breast with 
the other, the minister could hardly restrain himself 
from speaking. 

" A good evening to you, venerable Father Wilson ! 
Come up hither, I pray you, and pass a pleasant hour 
with me ! " 

Good heavens ! Had Mr. Dimmesdale actually 
spoken ? For one instant, he believed that these words 
had passed his lips. But they were uttered only within 
his imagination. The venerable Father Wilson con- 
tinued to step slowly onward, looking carefully at the 



182 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

muddy pathway before his feet, and never once turning 
his head towards the guilty platform. When the light 
of the glimmering lantern had faded quite away, the 
minister discovered, by the faintness which came over 
him, that the last few moments had been a crisis of ter- 
rible anxiety ; although his mind had made an invol- 
untary effort to relieve itself by a kind of lurid play- 
fulness. 

Shortly afterwards, the like grisly sense of the hu- 
morous again stole in among the solemn phantoms of 
his thought. He felt his limbs growing stiff with the 
unaccustomed chilliness of the night, and doubted 
whether he should be able to descend the steps of the 
scaffold. Morning would break, and find him there. 
The neighbourhood would begin to rouse itself. The 
earliest riser, coming forth in the dim twilight, would 
perceive a vaguely defined figure aloft on the place of 
shame; and, half crazed betwixt alarm and curiosity, 
would go, knocking from door to door, summoning all 
the people to behold the ghost — as he needs must 
think it — of some defunct transgressor. A dusky 
tumult would flap its wings from one house to another. 
Then — the morning light still waxing stronger — old 
patriarchs would rise up in great haste, each in his flan- 
nel gown, and matronly dames, without pausing to put 
off their night-gear. The whole tribe of decorous per- 
sonages, who had never heretofore been seen with a 
single hair of their heads awry, would start into public 
view, with the disorder of a nightmare in their aspects. 
Old Governor Bellingham would come grimly forth, 
with his King James's ruff fastened askew ; and Mistress 



THE MINISTER'S VIGIL. 183 

Hibbins, with some twigs of the forest clinging to her 
skirts, and looking sourer than ever, as having hardly- 
got a wink of sleep after her night ride ; and good 
Father Wilson, too, after spending half the night at a 
death-bed, and liking ill to be disturbed, thus early, 
out of his dreams about the glorified saints. Hither, 
likewise, would come the elders and deacons of Mr. 
Dimmesdale's church, and the young virgins who so 
idolized their minister, and had made a shrine for him 
in their white bosoms ; which, now, by the by, in their 
hurry and confusion, they would scantly have given 
themselves time to cover with their kerchiefs. All 
people, in a word, would come stumbling over their 
thresholds, and turning up their amazed and horror- 
stricken visages around the scaffold. Whom would 
they discern there, with the red eastern light upon his 
brow ? W T hom, but the Reverend Arthur Dimmes- 
dale, half frozen to death, overwhelmed with shame, 
and standing where Hester Prynne had stood ! 

Carried away by the grotesque horror of this picture, 
the minister, unawares, and to his own infinite alarm, 
burst into a great peal of laughter. It was immediately 
responded to by a light, airy, childish laugh, in which, 
with a thrill of the heart, — but he knew not whether 
of exquisite pain, or pleasure as acute, — he recognized 
the tones of little Pearl. 

" Pearl ! Little Pearl ! " cried he, after a moment's 
pause ; then, suppressing his voice, — " Hester ! Hes- 
ter Prynne ! Are you there ? " 

" Yes; it is Hester Prynne ! " she replied, in a tone 
of surprise ; and the minister heard her footsteps ap- 



184 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

proaching from the sidewalk, along which she had been 
passing. — " It is I, and my little Pearl." 

" Whence come you, Hester ? " asked the minister. 
" What sent you hither ? " 

" I have been watching at a death-bed," answered 
Hester Prynne ; — "at Governor Winthrop's death-bed, 
and have taken his measure for a robe, and am now 
going homeward to my dwelling." 

" Come up hither, Hester, thou and little Pearl," 
said the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale. " Ye have both 
been here before, but I was not with you. Come up 
hither once again, and we will stand all three to- 
gether ! " 

She silently ascended the steps, and stood on the 
platform, holding little Pearl by the hand. The minis- 
ter felt for the child's other hand, and took it. The 
moment that he did so, there came what seemed a tu- 
multuous rush of new life, other life than his own, 
pouring like a torrent into his heart, and hurrying 
through all his veins, as if the mother and the child 
were communicating their vital warmth to his half-tor- 
pid system. The three formed an electric chain. 

" Minister ! " whispered little Pearl. 

" What wouldst thou say, child ? " asked Mr. Dim- 
mesdale. 

" Wilt thou stand here with mother and me, to-mor- 
row noontide ?" inquired Pearl. 

'* Nay ; not so, my little Pearl ! " answered the min- 
ister ; for, with the new energy of the moment, all the 
dread of public exposure, that had so long been the 
anguish of his life, had returned upon him ; and he was 



THE MINISTER'S VIGIL. 185 

already trembling at the conjunction in which — with 
a strange joy, nevertheless — he now found himself. 
"Not so, my child. I shall, indeed, stand with thy 
mother and thee one other day, but not to-morrow ! " 

Pearl laughed, and attempted to pull away her hand. 
But the minister held it fast. 

" A moment longer, my child ! " said he. 

" But wilt thou promise," asked Pearl, " to take my 
hand, and mother's hand, to-morrow noontide ? " 

"Not then, Pearl," said the minister, "but another 
time ! " 

"And what other time ? " persisted the child. 

"At the great judgment day!" whispered the min- 
ister, — and, strangely enough, the sense that he was a 
professional teacher of the truth impelled him to an- 
swer the child so. " Then, and there, before the 
judgment-seat, thy mother, and thou, and I, must stand 
together ! But the daylight of this world shall not see 
our meeting ! " 

Pearl laughed again. 

But, before Mr. Dimmesdale had done speaking, a 
light gleamed far and wide over all the muffled sky. 
It was doubtless caused by one of those meteors, which 
the night-watcher may so often observe burning out to 
waste, in the vacant regions of the atmosphere. So 
powerful was its radiance, that it thoroughly illuminated 
the dense medium of cloud betwixt the sky and earth. 
The great vault brightened, like the dome of an im- 
mense lamp. It showed the familiar scene of the 
street, with the distinctness of mid-day, but also with 
the awfulness that is always imparted to familiar objects 



186 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

by an unaccustomed light. The wooden houses, with 
their jutting stories and quaint gable-peaks ; the door- 
steps and thresholds, with the early grass springing up 
about them ; the garden-plots, black with freshly turned 
earth ; the wheel-track, little worn, and, even in the 
market-place, margined with green on either side ; — 
all were visible, but with a singularity of aspect that 
seemed to give another moral interpretation to the 
things of this world than they had ever borne before. 
And there stood the minister, with his hand over his 
heart ; and Hester Prynne, with the embroidered letter 
glimmering on her bosom ; and little Pearl, herself a 
symbol, and the connecting link between those two. 
They stood in the noon of that strange and solemn 
splendor, as if it were the light that is to reveal all 
secrets, and the daybreak that shall unite all who be- 
long to one another. 

There was witchcraft in little Pearl's eyes ; and her 
face, as she glanced upward at the minister, wore that 
naughty smile which made its expression frequently so 
elvish. She withdrew her hand from Mr. Dimmes- 
dale's, and pointed across the street. But he clasped 
both his hands over his breast, and cast his eyes towards 
the zenith. 

Nothing was more common, in those days, than to 
interpret all meteoric appearances, and other natural 
phenomena, that occurred with less regularity than the 
rise and set of sun and moon, as so many revelations 
from a supernatural source. Thus, a blazing spear, a 
sword of flame, a bow, or a sheaf of arrows, seen in 
the midnight sky, prefigured Indian warfare. Pestilence 



THE MINISTER'S VIGIL. 187 

was known to have been foreboded by a shower of 
crimson light. We doubt whether any marked event, 
for good or evil, ever befell New England, from its set- 
tlement down to Revolutionary times, of which the in- 
habitants had not been previously warned by some 
spectacle of this nature. Not seldom, it had been seen 
by multitudes. Oftener, however, its credibility rested 
on the faith of some lonely eyewitness, who beheld 
the wonder through the colored, magnifying, and dis- 
torting medium of his imagination, and shaped it more 
distinctly in his after-thought. It was, indeed, a majestic 
idea, that the destiny of nations should be revealed, in 
these awful hieroglyphics, on the cope of heaven. A 
scroll so wide might not be deemed too expansive for 
Providence to write a people's doom upon. The belief 
was a favorite one with our forefathers, as betokening 
that their infant commonwealth was under a celestial 
guardianship of peculiar intimacy and strictness. But 
what shall we say, when an individual discovers a reve- 
lation, addressed to himself alone, on the same vast 
sheet of record ! In such a case, it could only be the 
symptom of a highly disordered mental state, when a 
man, rendered morbidly self-contemplative by long, 
intense, and secret pain, had extended his egotism over 
the whole expanse of nature, until the firmament itself 
should appear no more than a fitting page for his soul's 
history and fate. 

We impute it, therefore, solely to the disease in his 
own eye and heart, that the minister, looking upward 
to the zenith, beheld there the appearance of an im- 
mense letter, — the letter A, — marked out in lines of 



188 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

dull red light. Not but the meteor may have shown 
itself at that point, burning duskily through a veil of 
cloud ; but with no such shape as his guilty imagination 
gave it ; or, at least, with so little definiteness, that 
another's guilt might have seen another symbol in it. 

There was a singular circumstance that character- 
ized Mr. Dimmesdale's psychological state, at this 
moment. All the time that he gazed upward to 
the zenith, he was, nevertheless, perfectly aware that 
little Pearl was pointing her finger towards old Roger 
Chillingworth, who stood at no great distance from the 
scaffold. The minister appeared to see him, with the 
same glance that discerned the miraculous letter. To 
his features, as to all other objects, the meteoric light 
imparted a new expression ; or it might well be that 
the physician was not careful then, as at all other 
times, to hide the malevolence with which he looked 
upon his victim. Certainly, if the meteor kindled up 
the sky, and disclosed the earth, with an awfulness that 
admonished Hester Prynne and the clergyman of the 
day of judgment, then might Roger Chillingworth 
have passed with them for the arch-fiend, standing 
there, with a smile and scowl, to claim his own. So 
vivid was the expression, or so intense the minister's 
perception of it, that it seemed still to remain painted 
on the darkness, after the meteor had vanished, with 
an effect as if the street and all things else were at 
once annihilated. 

" Who is that man, Hester ? " gasped Mr. Dimmes- 
dale, overcome with terror. " I shiver at him ! Dost 
thou know the man ? I hate him, Hester ! " 









189 



She remembered her oath, and was silent. 

" I tell thee, my soul shivers at him," muttered the 
minister again. " Who is he ? Who is he ? Canst 
thou do nothing for me ? I have a nameless horror of 
the man." 

" Minister," said little Pearl, " I can tell thee who he 
is!" 

u Quickly, then, child ! " said the minister, bending 
his ear close to her lips. " Quickly ! — and as low as 
thou canst whisper." 

Pearl mumbled something into his ear, that sounded, 
indeed, like human language, but was only such gibber- 
ish as children may be heard amusing themselves with, 
by the hour together. At all events, if it involved any 
secret information in regard to old Roger Chillingworth, 
it was in a tongue unknown to the erudite clergyman, 
and did but increase the bewilderment of his mind. 
The elvish child then laughed aloud. 

" Dost thou mock me now ? " said the minister. 

" Thou wast not bold! — thou wast not true!" an- 
swered the child. " Thou wouldst not promise to take 
my hand, and mother's hand, to-morrow noontide ! " 

" Worthy Sir," said the physician, who had now 
advanced to the foot of the platform. " Pious Master 
Dimmesdale ! can this be you ? Well, well, indeed ! 
We men of study, whose heads are in our books, have 
need to be straitly looked after ! We dream in our 
waking moments, and walk in our sleep. Come, good 
Sir, and my dear friend, I pray you, let me lead you 
home ! " 

" How knewest thou that I was here ? " asked the 
minister, fearfully. 



190 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

"Verily, and in good faith," answered Roger Chil- 
lingworth, "I knew nothing of the matter. I had spent 
the better part of the night at the bedside of the wor- 
shipful Governor Winthrop, doing what my poor skill 
might to give him ease. He going home to a better 
world, I, likewise, was on my way homeward, when 
this strange light shone out. Come with me, I beseech 
you, Reverend Sir ; else you will be poorly able to do 
Sabbath duty to-morrow. Aha ! see now, how they 
trouble the brain, — these books ! — these books ! You 
should study less, good Sir, and take a little pastime ; 
or these night-whimseys will grow upon you ! " 

" I will go home with you," said Mr. Dimmesdale. 

With a chill despondency, like one awaking, all 
nerveless, from an ugly dream, he yielded himself to 
the physician, and was led away. 

The next day, however, being the Sabbath, he" 
preached a discourse which was held to be the richest 
and most powerful, and the most replete with heavenly 
influences, that had ever proceeded from his lips. 
Souls, it is said, more souls than one, were brought to 
the truth by the efficacy of that sermon, and vowed 
within themselves to cherish a holy gratitude towards 
Mr. Dimmesdale throughout the long hereafter. But, 
as he came down the pulpit-steps, the gray-bearded sex- 
ton met him, holding up a black glove, which the min- 
ister recognized as his own. 

" It was found," said the sexton, "this morning, on 
the scaffold, where evil-doers are set up to public 
shame* Satan dropped it there, I take it, intending a 
scurrilous jest against your reverence. But, indeed, he 



191 



was blind and foolish, as he ever and always is. A 
pure hand needs no glove to cover it ! " 

"Thank you, my good friend," said the minister 
gravely, but startled at heart ; for, so confused was his 
remembrance, that he had almost brought himself to 
look at the events of the past night as visionary. " Yes, 
it seems to be my glove indeed ! " 

11 And, since Satan saw fit to steal it, your reverence 
must needs handle him without gloves, henceforward," 
remarked the old sexton, grimly smiling. " But did 
your reverence hear of the portent that was seen last 
night ? A great red letter in the sky, — the letter A, 
— which we interpret to stand for Angel. For, as our 
good Governor Winthrop was made an angel this past 
night, it was doubtless held fit that there should be some 
notice thereof ! " 

" No," answered the minister. " I had not heard 
of it." 



192 THE SCARLET LETTER. 



XIII. 

ANOTHER VIEW OF HESTER. 

In her late sing ilar interview with Mr. Dimmesdale, 
Hester Prynne was shocked at the condition to which 
she found the clergyman reduced. His nerve seemed 
absolutely destroyed. His moral force was abased into 
more than childish weakness. It grovelled helpless on 
the ground, even while his intellectual faculties re- 
tained their pristine strength, or had perhaps acquired 
a morbid energy, which disease only could have given 
them. With her knowledge of a train of circumstan- 
ces hidden from all others, she could readily infer, 
that, besides the legitimate action of his own con- 
science, a terrible machinery had been brought to bear, 
and was still operating, on Mr. Dimmesdale's well-being 
and repose. Knowing what this poor, fallen man had 
once been, her whole soul was moved by the shudder- 
ing terror with which he had appealed to her, — the 
outcast woman, — for support against his instinctively 
discovered enemy. She decided, moreover, that he 
had a right to her utmost aid. Little accustomed, in 
her long seclusion from society, to measure her ideas 
of right and wrong by any standard external to her- 
self, Hester saw — or seemed to see — that there lay 
a responsibility upon her, in reference to the clergy- 



ANOTHER VIEW OF HESTER. 193 

man, which she owed to no other, nor to the whole 
world besides. The links that united her to the rest of 
human kind — links of flowers, or silk, or gold, or 
whatever the material — had all been broken. Here 
was the iron link of mutual crime, which neither he 
nor she could break. Like all other ties, it brought 
along with it its obligations. 

Hester Prynne did not now occupy precisely the 
same position in which we beheld her during the earlier 
periods of her ignominy. Years had come, and gone. 
Pearl was now seven years old. Her mother, with the 
scarlet letter on her breast, glittering in its fantastic 
embroidery, had long been a familiar object to the 
townspeople. ^ As is apt to be the case when a person 
stands out in any prominence before the community, 
and, at the same time, interferes neither with public nor 
individual interests and convenience, a species of gen- 
eral regard had ultimately grown up in reference to 
Hester Prynne. It is to the credit of human nature, 
that, except where its selfishness is brought into play, 
it loves more readily than it hates. Hatred, by a grad- 
ual and quiet process, will even be transformed to love, 
unless the change be impeded by a continually new 
irritation of the original feeling of hostility. In this 
matter of Hester Prynne, there was neither irritation 
nor irksomeness. She never battled with the public, 
but submitted uncomplainingly to its worst usage ; she 
made no claim upon it, in requital for what she suf- 
fered ; she did not weigh upon its sympathies. Then, 
also, the blameless purity of her life, during all these 
years in which she had been set apart to infamy, was 
13 



194 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

reckoned largely in her favor. With nothing now to 
lose, in the sight of mankind, and with no hope, and 
seemingly no wish, of gaining any thing, it could only 
be a genuine regard for virtue that had brought back 
the poor wanderer to its paths. 

It was perceived, too, that, while Hester never put 
forward even the humblest title to share in the world's 
privileges, — farther than to breathe the common ^air, 
and earn daily bread for little Pearl and herself by the 
faithful labor of her hands, — she was quick to acknowl- 
edge her sisterhood with the race of man, whenever 
benefits were to be conferred. None so ready as she 
to give of her little substance to every demand of 
poverty ; even though the bitter-hearted pauper threw 
back a gibe in requital of the food brought regularly 
to his door, or the garments wrought for him by the 
fingers that could have embroidered a monarch's robe. 
None so self-devoted as Hester, when pestilence stalked 
through the town. In all seasons of calamity, indeed, 
whether general or of individuals, the outcast of so- 
ciety at once found her place. She came, not as a 
guest, but as a rightful inmate, into the household that 
was darkened by trouble; as if its gloomy twilight 
were a medium in which she was entitled to hold in- 
tercourse with her fellow-creatures. There glimmered 
the embroidered letter, with comfort in its unearthly 
ray. Elsewhere the token of sin, it was the taper of 
the sick-chamber. It had even thrown its gleam, in 
the sufferer's hard extremity, across the verge of time. 
It had shown him where to set his foot, while the light 
of earth was fast becoming dim, and ere the light of 



ANOTHER VIEW OF HESTER. 195 

futurity could reach him. In such emergencies, Hes- 
ter's nature showed itself warm and rich ; a well-spring 
of human tenderness, unfailing to every real demand, 
and inexhaustible by the largest. Her breast, with its 
badge of shame, was but the softer pillow for the head 
that needed one. She was self-ordained a Sister of 
Mercy; or, we may rather say, the world's heavy 
hand had so ordained her, when neither the world nor 
she looked forward to this result. The letter was the 
symbol of her calling. Such helpfulness was found in 
her, — so much power to do, and power to sympathize, 
— that many people refused to interpret the scarlet A 
by its original signification. They said that it meant 
Able ; so strong was Hester Prynne, with a woman's 
strength. 

It was only the darkened house that could contain 
her. When sunshine came again, she was not there. 
Her shadow had faded across the threshold. The help- 
ful inmate had departed, without one backward glance 
to gather up the meed of gratitude, if any were in the 
hearts of those whom she had served so zealously. 
Meeting them in the street, she never raised her head to 
receive their greeting. If they were resolute to ac- 
cost her, she laid her finger on the scarlet letter, and 
passed on. This might be pride, but was so like hu- 
mility, that it produced all the softening influence of 
the latter quality on the public mind. The public is 
despotic in its temper ; it is capable of denying com- 
mon justice, when too strenuously demanded as a 
right; but quite as frequently it awards more than 
justice, when the appeal is made, as despots love to 



196 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

have it made, entirely to its generosity. Interpreting 
Hester Prynne's deportment as an appeal of this na- 
ture, society was inclined to show its former victim a 
more benign countenance than she cared to be favored 
with, or, perchance, than she deserved. 

The rulers, and the wise and learned men of the 
community, were longer in acknowledging the influ- 
ence of Hester's good qualities than the people. The 
prejudices which they shared in common with the lat- 
ter were fortified in themselves by an iron frame- 
work of reasoning, that made it a far tougher labor to 
expel them. Day by day, nevertheless, their sour and 
rigid wrinkles were relaxing into something which, in 
the due course of years, might grow to be an expression 
of almost benevolence. Thus it was with the men of 
rank, on whom their eminent position imposed the 
guardianship of the public morals. Individuals in pri- 
vate life, meanwhile, had quite forgiven Hester Prynne 
for her frailty ; nay, more, they had begun to look upon 
the scarlet letter as the token, not of that one sin, for 
which she had borne so long and dreary a penance, 
but of her many good deeds since. " Do you see that 
woman with the embroidered badge ? " they would say 
to strangers. " It is our Hester, — the town's own 
Hester, — who is so kind to the poor, so helpful to the 
sick, so comfortable to the afflicted ! " Then, it is true, 
the propensity of human nature to tell the very worst 
of itself, when embodied in the person of another, 
would constrain them to whisper the black scandal of 
bygone years. It was none the less a fact, however, 
that, in the eyes of the very men who spoke thus, the 



ANOTHER VIEW OF HESTER. 197 

scarlet letter had the effect of the cross on a nun's 
bosom. It imparted to the wearer a kind of sacred- 
ness, which enabled her to walk securely amid all 
peril. Had she fallen among thieves, it would have 
kept her safe. It was reported, and believed by many, 
that an Indian had drawn his arrow against the badge, 
and that the missile struck it, but fell harmless to the 
ground. 

The effect of the symbol — or rather, of the position 
in respect to society that was indicated by it — on the 
mind of Hester Prynne herself, was powerful and pe- 
culiar. All the light and graceful foliage of her char- 
acter had been withered up by this red-hot brand, and 
had long ago fallen away, leaving a bare and harsh out- 
line, which might have been repulsive, had she pos- 
sessed friends or companions to be repelled by it. 
Even the attractiveness of her person had undergone 
a similar change. It might be partly owing to the 
studied austerity of her dress, and partly to the lack 
of demonstration in her manners. It was a sad trans- 
formation, too, that her rich and luxuriant hair had 
either been cut off, or was so completely hidden by a 
cap, that not a shining lock of it ever once gushed into 
the sunshine. It was due in part to all these causes, 
but still more to something else, that there seemed to 
be no longer any thing in Hester's face for Love to 
dwell upon ; nothing in Hester's form, though majestic 
and statue-like, that Passion would ever dream of clasp- 
ing in its embrace ; nothing in Hester's bosom, to make 
it ever again the pillow of Affection. Some attribute 
had departed from her, the permanence of which had 



198 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

been essential to keep her a woman. Such is frequently 
the fate, and such the stern development, of the femi- 
nine character and person, when the woman has en- 
countered, and lived through, an experience of peculiar 
severity. If she be all tenderness, she will die. If 
she survive, the tenderness will either be crushed out 
of her, or — and the outward semblance is the same 
— crushed so deeply into her heart that it can never 
show itself more. The latter is perhaps the truest the- 
ory. She who has once been woman, and ceased to 
be so, might at any moment become a woman again, 
if there were only the magic touch to effect the trans- 
figuration. We shall see whether Hester Prynne were 
ever afterwards so touched, and so transfigured. 

Much of the marble coldness of Hester's impression 
was to be attributed to the circumstance that her life 
had turned, in a great measure, from passion and feel- 
ing, to thought. Standing alone in the world, — alone, 
as to any dependence on society, and with little Pearl 
to be guided and protected, — alone, and hopeless of 
retrieving her position, even had she not scorned to 
consider it desirable, — she cast away the fragments 
of a broken chain. The world's law was no law for 
her mind. It was an age in which the human intellect, 
newly emancipated, had taken a more active and a 
wider range than for many centuries before. Men of 
the sword had overthrown nobles and kings. Men 
bolder than these had overthrown and rearranged — 
not actually, but within the sphere of theory, which 
was their most real abode — the whole system of an- 
cient prejudice, wherewith was linked much of ancient 



ANOTHER VIEW OF HESTER. 199 

principle. Hester Prynne imbibed this spirit. She 
assumed a freedom of speculation, then common 
enough on the other side of the Atlantic, but which 
our forefathers, had they known of it, would have held 
to be a deadlier crime than that stigmatized by the 
scarlet letter. In her lonesome cottage, by the sea- 
shore, thoughts visited her, such as dared to enter no 
other dwelling in New England ; shadowy guests, that 
would have been as perilous as demons to their enter- 
tainer, could they have been seen so much as knocking 
at her door. 

It is remarkable, that persons who speculate the 
most boldly often conform with the most perfect qui- 
etude to the external regulations of society. The 
thought suffices them, without investing itself in the 
flesh and blood of action. So it seemed to be with 
Hester. Yet, had little Pearl never come to her from 
the spiritual world, it might have been far otherwise. 
Then, she might have come down to us in history, hand 
in hand with Ann Hutchinson, as the foundress of a 
religious sect. She might, in one of her phases, have 
been a prophetess. She might, and not improbably 
would, have suffered death from the stern tribunals of 
the period, for attempting to undermine the foundations 
of the Puritan establishment. But, in the education of 
her child, the mother's enthusiasm of thought had some- 
thing to wreak itself upon. Providence, in the person 
of this little girl, had assigned to Hester's charge the 
germ and blossom of womanhood, to be cherished and 
developed amid a host of difficulties. Every thing 
was against her. The world was hostile. The child's 



200 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

own nature had something wrong in it, which continu- 
ally betokened that she had been born amiss, — the 
effluence of her mother's lawless passion, — and often 
impelled Hester to ask, in bitterness of heart, whether 
it were for ill or good that the poor little creature had 
been born at all. 

Indeed, the same dark question often rose into her 
mind, with reference to the whole race of womanhood. 
Was existence worth accepting, even to the happiest 
among them ? As concerned her own individual ex- 
istence, she had long ago decided in the negative, and 
dismissed the point as settled. A tendency to specula- 
tion, though it may keep woman quiet, as it does man, 
yet makes her sad. She discerns, it may be, such a 
hopeless task before her. As a first step, the whole 
system of society is to be torn down, and built up anew. 
Then, the very nature of the opposite sex, or its long 
hereditary habit, which has become like nature, is to be 
essentially modified, before woman can be allowed to 
assume what seems a fair and suitable position. Final- 
ly, all other difficulties being obviated, woman cannot 
take advantage of these preliminary reforms, until she 
herself shall have undergone a still mightier change ; 
in which, perhaps, the ethereal essence, wherein she 
has her truest life, will be found to have evaporated. 
A woman never overcomes these problems by any 
exercise of thought. They are not to be solved, or 
only in one way. If her heart chance to come upper- 
most, they vanish. Thus, Hester Prynne, whose heart 
had lost its regular and healthy throb, wandered without 
a clew in the dark labyrinth of mind ; now turned aside 



ANOTHER VIEW OF HESTER. 201 

by an insurmountable precipice ; now starting back 
from a deep chasm. There was wild and ghastly 
scenery all around her, and a home and comfort no- 
where. At times, a fearful doubt strove to possess her 
soul, whether it were not better to send Pearl at once 
to heaven, and go herself to such futurity as Eternal 
Justice should provide. 

The scarlet letter had not done its office. 

Now, however, her interview with the Reverend Mr. 
Dimmesdale, on the night of his vigil, had given her a 
new theme of reflection, and held up to her an object 
that appeared worthy of any exertion and sacrifice for 
its attainment. She had witnessed the intense misery 
beneath which the minister struggled, or, to speak more 
accurately, had ceased to struggle. She saw that he 
stood on the verge of lunacy, if he had not already 
stepped across it. It was impossible to doubt, that, 
whatever painful efficacy there might be in the secret 
sting of remorse, a deadlier venom had been infused 
into it by the hand that proffered relief. A secret ene- 
my had been continually by his side, under the sem- 
blance of a friend and helper, and had availed himself 
of the opportunities thus afforded for tampering with 
the delicate springs of Mr. Dimmesdale's nature. Hes- 
ter could not but ask herself, whether there had not 
originally been a defect of truth, courage, and loyalty, 
on her own part, in allowing the minister to be thrown 
into a position where so much evil was to be foreboded, 
and nothing auspicious to be hoped. Her only justifi- 
cation lay in the fact, that she had been able to discern 
no method of rescuing him from a blacker ruin than 






202 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

had overwhelmed herself, except by acquiescing in 
Roger Chillingworth's scheme of disguise. Under that 
impulse, she had made her choice, and had chosen, as 
it now appeared, the more wretched alternative of the 
two. She determined to redeem her error, so far as it 
might yet be possible. Strengthened by years of hard 
and solemn trial, she felt herself no longer so inade- 
quate to cope with Roger Chillingworth as on that 
night, abased by sin, and half maddened by the igno- 
miny that was still new, when they had talked together 
in the prison-chamber. She had climbed her way, 
since then, to a higher point. The old man, on the 
other hand, had brought himself nearer to her level, or 
perhaps below it, by the revenge which he had stooped 
for. 

In fine, Hester Prynne resolved to meet her former 
husband, and do what might be in her power for the 
rescue of the victim on whom he had so evidently set 
his gripe. The occasion was not long to seek. One 
afternoon, walking with Pearl in a retired part of the 
peninsula, she beheld the old physician, with a basket 
on one arm, and a staff in the other hand, stooping 
along the ground, in quest of roots and herbs to concoct 
his medicines withal. 



HESTER AND THE PHYSICIAN. 203 






XIV. 

HESTER AND THE PHYSICIAN. 



Hester bade 'little Pearl run down to the margin of 
the water, and play with the shells and tangled sea- 
weed, until she should have talked awhile with yonder 
gatherer of herbs. So the child flew away like a bird, 
and, making bare her small white feet, went pattering 
along the moist margin of the sea. Here and there, 
she came to a full stop, and peeped curiously into a 
pool, left by the retiring tide as a mirror for Pearl to 
see her face in. Forth peeped at her, out of the pool, 
with dark, glistening curls around her head, and an elf- 
smile in her eyes, the image of a little maid, whom 
Pearl, having no other playmate, invited to take her 
hand and run a race with her. But the visionary little 
maid, on her part, beckoned likewise, as if to say, — 
"This is a better place! Come thou into the pool!" 
And Pearl, stepping in, mid-leg deep, beheld her own 
white feet at the bottom ; while, out of a still lower 
depth, came the gleam of a kind of fragmentary smile, 
floating to and fro in the agitated water. 

Meanwhile, her mother had accosted the physician. 

"I would speak a word with you," said she, — "a 
word that concerns us much." 

" Aha ! And is it Mistress Hester that has a word 






204 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

for old Roger Chillingworth ? " answered he, raising 
himself from his stooping posture. " With all my 
heart ! Why, Mistress, I hear good tidings of you on 
all hands ! No longer ago than yester-eve, a magis- 
trate, a wise and godly man, was discoursing of your 
affairs, Mistress Hester, and whispered me that there 
had been question concerning you in the council. It 
was debated whether or no, with safety to the common 
weal, yonder scarlet letter might be taken off your 
bosom. On my life, Hester, I made my entreaty to the 
worshipful magistrate that it might be done forth- 
with ! " 

" It lies not in the pleasure of the magistrates to take 
off this badge," calmly replied Hester. " Were I 
worthy to be quit of it, it would fall away of its own 
nature, or be transformed into something that should 
speak a different purport." 

" Nay, then, wear it, if it suit you better," rejoined 
he. " A woman must needs follow her own fancy, 
touching the adornment of her person. The letter is 
gayly embroidered, and shows right bravely on your 
bosom ! " 

All this while, Hester had been looking steadily at 
the old man, and was shocked, as well as wonder-smit- 
ten, to discern what a change had been wrought upon 
him within the past seven years. It was not so much 
that he had grown older ; for though the traces of ad- 
vancing life were visible, he bore his age well, and 
seemed to retain a wiry vigor and alertness. But the 
former aspect of an intellectual and studious man, calm 
and quiet, which was what she best remembered in him, 



HESTER AND THE PHYSICIAN. 205 

had altogether vanished, and been succeeded by an 
eager, searching, almost fierce, yet carefully guarded 
look. It seemed to be his wish and purpose to mask 
this expression with a smile ; but the latter played him 
false, and flickered over his visage so derisively, that 
the spectator could see his blackness all the better for 
it. Ever and anon, too, there came a glare of red light 
out of his eyes ; as if the old man's soul were on fire, 
and kept on smouldering duskily within his breast, un- 
til, by some casual puff of passion, it was blown into 
a momentary flame. This he repressed as speedily as 
possible, and strove to look as if nothing of the kind 
had happened. 

In a word, old Roger Chillingworth was a striking 
evidence of man's faculty of transforming himself into 
a devil, if he will only, for a reasonable space of time, 
undertake a devil's office. This unhappy person had 
effected such a transformation by devoting himself, for 
seven years, to the constant analysis of a heart full of 
torture, and deriving his enjoyment thence, and adding 
fuel to those fiery tortures which he analyzed and gloat- 
ed over. 

The scarlet letter burned on Hester Prynne's bosom. 
Here was another ruin, the responsibility of which 
came partly home to her. 

" What see you in my face," asked the physician, 
" that you look at it so earnestly ? " 

" Something that would make me weep, if there were 
any tears bitter enough for it," answered she. " But 
let it pass ! It is of yonder miserable man that I would 
speak." 



206 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

" And what of him ? " cried Roger Chillingworth 
eagerly, as if he loved the topic, and were glad of an 
opportunity to discuss it with the only person of whom 
he could make a confidant. " Not to hide the truth, 
Mistress Hester, my thoughts happen just now to be 
busy with the gentleman. So speak freely ; and I will 
make answer." 

" When we last spake together," said Hester, " now 
seven years ago, it was your pleasure to extort a prom- 
ise of secrecy, as touching the former relation be- 
twixt yourself and me. As the life and good fame of 
yonder man were in your hands, there seemed no 
choice to me, save to be silent, in accordance with 
your behest. Yet it was not without heavy misgivings 
that I thus bound myself; for, having cast off all duty 
towards other human beings, there remained a duty 
towards him ; and something whispered me that I was 
betraying it, in pledging myself to keep your counsel. 
Since that day, no man is so near to him as you. You 
tread behind his every footstep. You are beside him, 
sleeping and waking. You search his thoughts. You 
burrow and rankle in his heart ! Your clutch is on his 
life, and you cause him to die daily a living death ; 
and still he knows you not. In permitting this, I have 
surely acted a false part by the only man to whom the 
power was left me to be true ! " 

" What choice had you ? " asked Roger Chilling- 
worth. " My finger, pointed at this man, would have 
hurled him from his pulpit into a dungeon, — thence, 
peradventure, to the gallows ! " 

" It had been better so ! " said Hester Prynne. 



HESTER AND THE PHYSICIAN. 207 

" What evil have I done the man ? " asked Roger 
Chillingworth again. " I tell thee, Hester Prynne, the 
richest fee that ever physician earned from monarch 
could not have bought such care as I have wasted on 
this miserable priest ! But for my aid, his life would 
have burned away in torments, within the first two 
years after the perpetration of his crime and thine. 
For, Hester, his spirit lacked the strength that could 
have borne up, as thine has, beneath a burden like 
thy scarlet letter. O, I could reveal a goodly secret ! 
But enough ! What art can do, I have exhausted on 
him. That he now breathes, and creeps about on 
earth, is owing all to me ! " 

u Better he had died at once ! " said Hester Prynne. 

" Yea, woman, thou sayest truly ! " cried old Roger 
Chillingworth, letting the lurid fire of his heart blaze 
out before her eyes. " Better had he died at once ! 
Never did mortal suffer what this man has suffered. 
And all, all, in the sight of his worst enemy ! He has 
been conscious of me. He has felt an influence dwell- 
ing always upon him like a curse. He knew, by some 
spiritual sense, — for the Creator pever made another 
being so sensitive as this, — he knew that no friendly 
hand was pulling at his heart-strings, and that an eye 
was looking curiously into him, whfch sought only evil, 
and found it. But he knew not that the eye and hand 
were mine ! With the superstition common to his 
brotherhood, he fancied himself given over to a fiend, 
to be tortured with frightful dreams, and desperate 
thoughts, the sting of remorse, and despair of pardon ; 
as a foretaste of what awaits him beyond the grave. 



208 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

But it was the constant shadow of my presence ! — the 
closest propinquity of the man whom he had most vile- 
ly wronged ! — and who had grown to exist only by 
this perpetual poiso,n of the direst revenge ! Yea, in- 
deed ! — he did not err ! — there was a fiend at his 
elbow ! A mortal man, with once a human heart, has 
become a fiend for his especial torment ! " 

The unfortunate physician, while uttering these words, 
lifted his hands with a look of horror, as if he had be- 
held some frightful shape, which he could not rec- 
ognize, usurping the place of his own image in a glass. 
It was one of those moments — which sometimes oc- 
cur only at the interval of years — when a man's moral 
aspect is faithfully revealed to his mind's eye. Not 
improbably, he had never before viewed himself as he 
did now. 

" Hast thou not tortured him enough ? " said Hester, 
noticing the old man's look. " Has he not paid thee 
all ? " 

" No ! — no ! — He has but increased the debt ! " 
answered the physician ; and, as he proceeded, his 
manner lost its fiercer characteristics, and subsided 
into gloom. " Dost thou remember me, Hester, as I 
was nine years agone ? Even then, I was in the 
autumn of my days, nor was it the early autumn. 
But all my life had been made up of earnest, studious, 
thoughtful, quiet years, bestowed faithfully for the in- 
crease of mine own knowledge, and faithfully, too, 
thougn this latter object was but casual to the other, — 
faithflily for the advancement of human welfare. No 
life had been more peaceful and innocent than mine ; 






HESTER AND THE PHYSICIAN. 209 



few lives so rich with benefits conferred. Dost thou 
remember me ? Was I not, though you might deem 
me cold, nevertheless a man thoughtful for others, 
craving little for himself, — kind, true, just, and of con- 
stant, if not warm affections ? Was I not all this ? " 

" All this, and more," said Hester. 

" And what am I now ? " demanded he, looking into 
her face, and permitting the whole evil within him to 
be written on his features. " I have already told thee 
what I am ! A fiend ! Who made me so ? " 

"It was myself!" cried Hester, shuddering. "It 
was I, not less than he. Why hast thou not avenged 
thyself on me ? " 

" I have left thee to the scarlet letter," replied Roger 
Chillingworth. "If that have not avenged me, I can do 
no more ! " 

He laid his finger on it, with a smile. 

" It has avenged thee ! " answered Hester Prynne. 

" I judged no less, " said the physician. " And now, 
what wouldst thou with me touching this man ? " 

"I must reveal the secret," answered Hester, firm- 
ly. " He must discern thee in thy true character. 
What may be the result, I know not. But this long 
debt of confidence, due from me to him, whose bane 
and ruin I have been, shall at length be paid. So far 
as concerns the overthrow or preservation of his fair 
fame and his earthly state, and perchance his life, he 
is in thy hands. Nor do I, — whom the scarlet letter 
has disciplined to truth, though it be the truth of red- 
hot iron, entering into the soul, — nor do I P&a^ive 
such advantage in his living any longer a life of ghastly 
14 



•t 



* 

* 



m **. 



210 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

emptiness, that I shall stoop to implore thy mercy. 
Do with him as thou wilt ! There is no good for him, 
1 — no good for me, — no good for thee ! There is no 
good for little Pearl ! There is no path to guide us 
out of this dismal maze ! " 

" Woman, I could wellnigh pity thee ! " said Roger 
Chillingworth, unable to restrain a thrill of admiration 
too ; for there was a quality almost majestic in the de- 
spair which she expressed. " Thou hadst great ele- 
ments. Peradventure, hadst thou met earlier with a 
better love than mine, this evil had not been. I pity 
thee, for the good that has been wasted in thy nature ! 1 

" And I thee," answered Hester Prynne, " for the 
hatred that has transformed a wise and just man to a 
fiend ! Wilt thou yet purge it out of thee, and be once 
more human ? If not for his sake, then doubly for 
thine own ! Forgive, and leave his further retribution 
to the Power that claims it! I said, but now, that 
there could be no good event for him, or thee, or me, 
who are here wandering together in this gloomy maze 
of evil, and stumbling, at every step, over the guilt 
wherewith we have strewn our path. It is not so! 
There might be good for thee, and thee alone, since 
thou hast been deeply wronged, and hast it at thy will 
to pardon. Wilt thou give up that only privilege? 
Wilt thou reject that priceless benefit ? " 

" Peace, Hester, peace ! " replied the old man, with 
gloomy sternness. " It is not granted me to pardon. 
I have no such power as thou tellest me of. My old 
faith, long forgotten, comes back to me, and explains 
all that we do, and all we suffer. By thy first step 



HESTER AND THE PHYSICIAN. 211 

awry, thou didst plant the germ of evil ; but, since that 
moment, it has all been a dark necessity. Ye that 
have wronged me are not sinful, save in a kind of 
typical illusion ; neither am I fiend-like, who have 
snatched a fiend's office from his hands. It is our 
fate. Let the black flower blossom as it may ! Now 
go thy ways, and deal as thou wilt with yonder man." 

He waved his hand, and betook himself again to 
his employment of gathering herbs. 






212 THE SCARLET LETTER. 



XV. 

HESTER AND PEARL. 

So Roger Chillingworth — a deformed old figure, 
with a face that haunted men's memories longer than 
they liked — took leave of Hester Prynne, and went 
stooping away along the earth. He gathered here and 
there an herb, or grubbed up a root, and put it into the 
basket on his arm. His gray beard almost touched the 
ground, as he crept onward. Hester gazed after him 
a little while, looking with a half-fantastic curiosity to 
see whether the tender grass of early spring would not 
be blighted beneath him, and show the wavering track 
of his footsteps, sere and brown, across its cheerful 
verdure. She wondered what sort of herbs they were, 
which the old man was so sedulous to gather. Would 
not the earth, quickened to an evil purpose by the sym- 
pathy of his eye, greet him with poisonous shrubs, of 
species hitherto unknown, that would start up under his 
fingers ? Or might it suffice him, that every wholesome 
growth should be converted into something deleterious 
and malignant at his touch ? Did the sun, which shone 
so brightly everywhere else, really fall upon him ? Or 
was there, as it rather seemed, a circle of ominous 
shadow moving along with his deformity, whichever 
way he turned himself? And whither was he now 



HESTER AND PEARL. 213 

going? Would he not suddenly sink into the earth, 
leaving a barren and blasted spot, where, in due 
course of time, would be seen deadly nightshade, 
dogwood, henbane, and whatever else of vegetable 
wickedness the climate could produce, all flourish- 
ing with hideous luxuriance ? Or would he spread 
bat's wings and flee away, looking so much the uglier, 
the higher he rose towards heaven ? 

" Be it sin or no," said Hester Prynne bitterly, as 
she still gazed after him, " I hate the man ! " 

She upbraided herself for the sentiment, but could 
not overcome or lessen it. Attempting to do so, she 
thought of those long-past days, in a distant land, when 
he used to emerge at eventide from the seclusion of his 
study, and sit down in the fire-light of their home, and 
in the light of her nuptial smile. He needed to bask 
himself in that smile, he said, in order that the chill of 
so many lonely hours among his books might be taken 
off the scholar's heart. Such scenes had once appeared 
not otherwise than happy, but now, as viewed through 
the dismal medium of her subsequent life, they classed 
themselves among her ugliest remembrances. She 
marvelled how such scenes could have been ! She 
marvelled how she could ever have been wrought upon 
to marry him ! She deemed it her crime most to be 
repented of, that she had ever endured, and recipro- 
cated, the lukewarm grasp of his hand, and had suf- 
fered the smile of her lips and eyes to mingle and 
melt into his own. And it seemed a fouler offence 
committed by Roger Chillingworth, than any which 
had since been done him, that, in the time when her 



214 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

heart knew no better, he had persuaded her to fancy 
herself happy by his side. 

" Yes, I hate him ! " repeated Hester, more bitterly 
than before. " He betrayed me ! He has done me 
worse wrong than I did him ! " 

Let men tremble to win the hand of woman, unless 
they win along with it the utmost passion of her heart ! 
Else it may be their miserable fortune, as it was Roger 
Chillingworth's, when some mightier touch than their 
own may have awakened all her sensibilities, to be re- 
proached even for the calm content, the marble image 
of happiness, which they will have imposed upon her 
as the warm reality. But Hester ought long ago to 
have done with this injustice. What did it betoken ? 
Had seven long years, under the torture of the scarlet 
letter, inflicted so much of misery, and wrought out no 
repentance ? 

The emotions of that brief space, while she stood 
gazing after the crooked figure of old Roger Chilling- 
worth, threw a dark light on Hester's state of mind, 
revealing much that she might not otherwise have 
acknowledged to herself, 

He being gone, she summoned back her child. 

" Pearl ! Little Pearl ! Where are you ? " 

Pearl, whose activity of spirit never flagged, had 
been at no loss for amusement while her mother talked 
with the old gatherer of herbs. At first, as already 
told, she had flirted fancifully with her own image in 
a pool of water, beckoning the phantom forth, and — 
as it declined to venture — seeking a passage for her- 
self into its sphere of impalpable earth and unattain- 



HESTER AND PEARL. 215 

able sky. Soon finding, however, that either she or 
the image was unreal, she turned elsewhere for better 
pastime. She made little boats out of birch-bark, and 
freighted them with snail-shells, and sent out more 
ventures on the mighty deep than any merchant in 
New England ; but the larger part of them foun- 
dered near the shore. She seized a live horseshoe by 
the tail, and made prize of several five-fingers, and laid 
out a jelly-fish to melt in the warm sun. Then she 
took up the white foam, that streaked the line of the 
advancing tide, and threw it upon the breeze, scamper- 
ing after it with winged footsteps, to catch the great 
snow-flakes ere they fell. Perceiving a flock of beach- 
birds, that fed and fluttered along the shore, the naughty 
child picked up her apron full of pebbles, and, creep- 
ing from rock to rock after these small sea-fowl, dis- 
played remarkable dexterity in pelting them. One lit- 
tle gray bird, with a white breast, Pearl was almost 
sure, had been hit by a pebble, and fluttered away with 
a broken wing. But then the elf-child sighed, and gave 
up her sport; because it grieved her to have done 
harm to a little being that was as wild as the sea- 
breeze, or as wild as Pearl herself. 

Her final employment was to gather sea-weed, of 
various kinds, and make herself a scarf, or mantle, and 
a head-dress, and thus assume the aspect of a little 
mermaid. She inherited her mother's gift for devising 
drapery and costume. As the last touch to her mer- 
maid's garb, Pearl took some eel-grass, and imitated, 
as best she could, on her own bosom, the decoration 
with which she was so familiar on her mother's. A 



216 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

letter, — the letter A, — but freshly green, instead of 
scarlet ! The child bent her chin upon her breast, and 
contemplated this device with strange interest ; even as 
if the one only thing for which she had been sent into 
the world was to make out its hidden import. 

" I wonder if mother will ask me what it means ! " 
thought Pearl. 

Just then, she heard her mother's voice, and, flitting 
along as lightly as one of the little sea-birds, appeared 
before Hester Prynne, dancing, laughing, and pointing 
her finger to the ornament upon her bosom. 

" My little Pearl," said Hester, after a moment's si- 
lence, " the green letter, and on thy childish bosom, 
has no purport. But dost thou know, my child, what 
this letter means which thy mother is doomed to 
wear ? " 

" Yes, mother," said the child. " It is the great let- 
ter A. Thou hast taught it me in the horn-book." 

Hester looked steadily into her little face ; but, 
though there was that singular expression which she 
had so often remarked in her black eyes, she could not 
satisfy herself whether Pearl really attached any mean- 
ing to the symbol. She felt a morbid desire to ascer- 
tain the point. 

" Dost thou know, child, wherefore thy mother wears 
this letter ? " 

" Truly do I ! " answered Pearl, looking brightly into 
her mother's face. " It is for the same reason that the 
minister keeps his hand over his heart ! " 

" And what reason is that ? " asked Hester, half 
smiting at the absurd incongruity of the child's obser- 



HESTER AND PEARL. 217 

vation ; but, on second thoughts, turning pale. " What 
has the letter to do with any heart, save mine ? " 

"Nay, mother, I have told all I know," said Pearl, 
more seriously than she was wont to speak. " Ask 
yonder old man whom thou hast been talking with ! It 
may be he can tell. But in good earnest now, mother 
dear, what does this scarlet letter mean ? — and why 
dost thou wear it on thy bosom ? — and why does the 
minister keep his hand over his heart ? " 

She took her mother's hand in both her own, and 
gazed into her eyes with an earnestness that was sel- 
dom seen in her wild and capricious character. The 
thought occurred to Hester, that the child might really 
be seeking to approach her with childlike confidence, 
and doing what she could, and as intelligently as she 
knew how, to establish a meeting-point of sympathy. 
It showed Pearl in an unwonted aspect. Heretofore, 
the mother, while loving her child with the intensity of 
a sole affection, had schooled herself to hope for little 
other return than the waywardness of an April breeze ; 
which spends its time in airy sport, and has its gusts 
of inexplicable passion, and is petulant in its best of 
moods, and chills oftener than caresses you, when you 
take it to your bosom ; in requital of which misdemean- 
ours, it will sometimes, of its own vague purpose, kiss 
your cheek with a kind of doubtful tenderness, and 
play gently with your hair, and then begone about its 
other idle business, leaving a dreamy pleasure at your 
heart. And this, moreover, was a mother's estimate of 
the child's disposition. Any other observer might have 
seen few but unamiable traits, and have given them a 



218 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

far darker coloring. But now the idea came strongly 
into Hester's mind, that Pearl, with her remarkable 
precocity and acuteness, might already have approached 
the age when she could be made a friend, and in- 
trusted with as much of her mother's sorrows as could 
be imparted, without irreverence either to the parent or 
the child. In the little chaos of Pearl's character, there 
might be seen emerging — and could have been, from 
the very first — the stedfast principles of an unflinching 
courage, — an uncontrollable will, — a sturdy pride, 
which might be disciplined into self-respect, — and a 
bitter scorn of many things, which, when examined, 
might be found to have the taint of falsehood in them. 
She possessed affections, too, though hitherto acrid and 
disagreeable, as are the richest flavors of unripe fruit. 
With all these sterling attributes, thought Hester, the evil 
which she inherited from her mother must be great in- 
deed, if a noble woman do not grow out of this elfish 
child. • 

Pearl's inevitable tendency to hover about the enig- 
ma of the scarlet letter seemed an innate quality of 
her being. From the earliest epoch of her conscious 
life, she had entered upon this as her appointed mis- 
sion. Hester had often fancied that Providence had a 
design of justice and retribution, in endowing the child 
with this marked propensity ; but never, until now, had 
she bethought herself to ask, whether, linked with that 
design, there might not likewise be a purpose of mercy 
and beneficence. If little Pearl were entertained with 
faith and trust, as a spirit-messenger no less than an 
earthly child, might it not be her errand to soothe away 



HESTER AND PEARL. 219 

the sorrow that lay cold in her mother's heart, and 
converted it into a tomb ? — and to help her to over- 
come the passion, once so wild, and even yet neither 
dead nor asleep, but only imprisoned within the same 
tomb-like heart ? 

Such were some of the thoughts that now stirred in 
Hester's mind, with as much vivacity of impression as 
if they had actually been whispered into her ear. And 
there was little Pearl, all this while, holding her moth- 
er's hand in both her own, and turning her face up- 
ward, while she put these searching questions, once, 
and again, and still a third time. 

" What does the letter mean, mother ? — and why 
dost thou wear it ? — and why does the minister keep 
his hand over his heart ? " 

" What shall I say ? " thought Hester to herself. — 
" No ! If this be the price of the child's sympathy, I 
cannot pay it ! " 

Then she spoke aloud. 

" Silly Pearl," said she, " what questions are these ? 
There are many things in this world that a child must 
not ask about. What know I of the minister's heart ? 
And as for the scarlet letter, I wear it for the sake of 
its gold thread ! " 

In all the seven bygone years, Hester Prynne had 
never before been false to the symbol on her bosom. 
It may be that it was the talisman of a stern and 
severe, but yet a guardian spirit, who now forsook her ; 
as recognizing that, in spite of his strict watch over her 
heart, some new evil had crept into it, or some old one 
had never been expelled. As for little Pearl, the ear- 
nestness soon passed out of her face. 



220 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

But the child did not see fit to let the matter drop. 
Two or three times, as her mother and she went home- 
ward, and as often at supper-time, and while Hester 
was putting her to bed, and once after she seemed to 
be fairly asleep, Pearl looked up, with mischief gleam- 
ing in her black eyes. 

" Mother," said she, " what does the scarlet letter 
mean ? " 

And the next morning, the first indication the child 
gave of being awake was by popping up her head 
from the pillow, and making that other inquiry, which 
she had so unaccountably connected with her investi- 
gations about the scarlet letter : — 

" Mother ! — Mother ! — Why does the minister keep 
his hand over his heart ? " 

" Hold thy tongue, naughty child ! " answered her 
mother, with an asperity that she had never permitted 
to herself before. " Do not tease me ; else I shall shut 
thee into the dark closet ! " 



A FOREST WALK. 221 



XVI. 

A FOREST WALK. 

Hester Prynne remained constant in her resolve to 
make known to Mr. Dimmesdale, at whatever risk of 
present pain or ulterior consequences, the true charac- 
ter of the man who had crept into his intimacy. For 
several days, however, she vainly sought an oppor- 
tunity of addressing him in some of the meditative 
walks which she knew him to be in the habit of taking, 
along the shores of the peninsula, or on the wooded 
hills of the neighbouring country. There would have 
been no scandal, indeed, nor peril to the holy whiteness 
of the clergyman's good fame, had she visited him in 
his own study ; where many a penitent, ere now, had 
confessed sins of perhaps as deep a die as the one be- 
tokened by the scarlet letter. But, partly that she 
dreaded the secret or undisguised interference of old 
Roger Chillingworth, and partly that her conscious 
heart imputed suspicion where none could have been 
felt, and partly that both the minister and she would 
need the whole wide world to breathe in, while they 
talked together, — for all these reasons, Hester never 
thought of meeting him in any narrower privacy than 
beneath the open sky. 

At last, while attending in a sick-chamber, whither 



222 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale had been summoned to 
make a prayer, she learnt that he had gone, the day 
before, to visit the Apostle Eltot, among his Indian 
converts. He would probably return, by a certain 
hour, in the afternoon of the morrow. Betimes, there- 
fore, the next day, Hester took little Pearl, — who was 
necessarily the companion of all her mother's expe- 
ditions, however inconvenient her presence, — and set 
forth. 

The road, after the two wayfarers had crossed from 
the peninsula to the mainland, was no other than a 
footpath. It straggled onward into the mystery of the 
primeval forest. This hemmed it in so narrowly, and 
stood so black and dense on either side, and disclosed 
such imperfect glimpses of the sky above, that, to Hes- 
ter's mind, it imaged not amiss the moral wilderness in 
which she had so long been wandering. The day was 
chill and sombre. Overhead was a gray expanse of 
cloud, slightly stirred, however, by a breeze ; so that a 
gleam of flickering sunshine might now and then be 
seen at its solitary play along the path. This flitting 
cheerfulness was always at the farther extremity of 
some long vista through the forest. The sportive sun- 
light — feebly sportive, at best, in the predominant pen- 
siveness of the day and scene — withdrew itself as they 
came nigh, and left the spots where it had danced the 
drearier, because they had hoped to find them bright. 

" Mother," said little Pearl, " the sunshine does not 
love you. It runs away and hides itself, because it is 
afraid of something on your bosom. Now, see ! There 
it is, playing, a good way off. Stand you here, and let 



A FOREST WALK. 223 

me run and catch it. I am but a child. It will not flee 
from me ; for I wear nothing on my bosom yet ! " 

"Nor ever will, my child, I hope," said Hester. 

"And why not, mother?" asked Pearl, stopping 
short, just at the beginning of her race. " Will not it 
come of its own accord, when I am a woman grown ? " 

"Run away, child," answered her mother, "and 
catch the sunshine ! It will soon be gone." 

Pearl set forth, at a great pace, and, as Hester smiled 
to perceive, did actually catch the sunshine, and stood 
laughing in the midst of it, all brightened by its splen- 
dor, and scintillating with the vivacity excited by rapid 
motion. The light lingered about the lonely child, as 
if glad of such a playmate, until her mother had drawn 
almost nigh enough to step into the magic circle too. 

" It will go now ! " said Pearl, shaking her head. 

" See ! " answered Hester, smiling. " Now I can 
stretch out my hand, and grasp some of it." 

As she attempted to do so, the sunshine vanished ; 
or, to judge from the bright expression that was dan- 
cing on Pearl's features, her mother could have fancied 
that the child had absorbed it into herself, and would 
give it forth again, with a gleam about her path, as 
they should plunge into some gloomier shade. There 
was no other attribute that so much impressed her with 
a sense of new and untransmitted vigor in Pearl's na- 
ture, as this never-failing vivacity of spirits ; she had 
not the disease of sadness, which almost all children, in 
these latter days, inherit, with the scrofula, from the 
troubles of their ancestors. Perhaps this too was a 
disease, and but the reflex of the wild energy with 



224 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

which Hester had fought against her sorrows, before 
Pearl's birth. It was certainly a doubtful charm, im- 
parting a hard, metallic lustre to the child's character. 
She wanted — what some people want throughout life 
— a grief that should deeply touch her, and thus hu- 
manize and make her capable of sympathy. But there 
was time enough yet for little Pearl ! 

" Come, my child ! " said Hester, looking about her, 
from the spot where Pearl had stood still in the sun- 
shine. " We will sit down a little way within the wood, 
and rest ourselves." 

" I am not aweary, mother," replied the little girL 
" But you may sit down, if you will tell me a story 
meanwhile." 

" A story, child ! " said Hester. " And about 
what ? " 

" O, a story about the Black Man ! " answered Pearl, 
taking hold of her mother's gown, and looking up, half 
earnestly, half mischievously, into her face. " How he 
haunts this forest, and carries a book with him, — a big, 
heavy book, with iron clasps ; and how this ugly Black 
Man offers his book and an iron pen to every body that 
meets him here among the trees ; and they are to write 
their names with their own blood. And then he sets 
his mark on their bosoms ! Didst thou ever meet the 
Black Man, mother ? " 

" And who told you this story, Pearl ? " asked her 
mother, recognizing a common superstition of the 
period. 

" It was the old dame in the chimney-corner, at the 
house where you watched last night," said the child. 



A FOREST WALK. 225 

" But she fancied me asleep while she was talking of 
it. She said that a thousand and a thousand people had 
met him here, and had written in his book, and have 
his mark on them. And that ugly-tempered lady, old 
Mistress Hibbins, was one. And, mother, the old dame 
said that this scarlet letter was the Black Man's mark 
on thee, and that it glows like a red flame when thou 
meetest him at midnight, here in the dark wood. Is 
it true, mother ? And dost thou go to meet him in the 
night-time ? " 

"Didst thou ever awake, and find thy mother 
gone ? " asked Hester. 

" Not that I remember," said the child. " If thou 
fearest to leave me in our cottage, thou mightest take 
me along with thee. I would very gladly go ! But, 
mother, tell me now ! Is there such a Black Man ? 
And didst thou ever meet him ? And is this his 
mark ? " 

" Wilt thou let me be at peace, if I once tell thee ? " 
asked her mother. 

" Yes, if thou tellest me all," answered Pearl. 

" Once in my life I met the Black Man ! " said her 
mother. " This scarlet letter is his mark ! " 

Thus conversing, they entered sufficiently deep into 
the wood to secure themselves from the observation of 
any casual passenger along the forest-track. Here they 
sat down on a luxuriant heap of moss ; which, at some 
epoch of the preceding century, had been a gigantic 
pine, with its roots and trunk in the darksome shade, 
and its head aloft in the upper atmosphere. It was a 
little dell where they had seated themselves, with a leaf- 
15 



226 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

strewn bank rising gently on either side, and a brook 
flowing through the midst, over a bed of fallen and 
drowned leaves. The trees impending over it had 
flung down great branches, from time to time, which 
choked up the current, and compelled it to form eddies 
and black depths at some points ; while, in its swifter 
and livelier passages, there appeared a channel-way of 
pebbles, and brown, sparkling sand. Letting the eyes 
follow along the course of the stream, they could catch 
the reflected light from its water, at some short dis- 
tance within the forest, but soon lost all traces of it 
amid the bewilderment of tree-trunks and underbrush, 
and here and there a huge rock, covered over with 
gray lichens. All these giant trees and boulders of 
granite seemed intent on making a mystery of the 
course of this small brook ; fearing, perhaps, that, with 
its never-ceasing loquacity, it should whisper tales out 
of the heart of the old forest whence it flowed, or 
mirror its revelations on the smooth surface of a pool. 
Continually, indeed, as it stole onward, the streamlet 
kept up a babble, kind, quiet, soothing, but melancholy, 
like the voice of a young child that was spending its 
infancy without playfulness, and knew not how to be 
merry among sad acquaintance and events of sombre 
hue. 

" O brook ! O foolish and tiresome little brook ! " 
cried Pearl, after listening awhile to its talk. " Why 
art thou so sad ? Pluck up a spirit, and do not be all 
the time sighing and murmuring ! " 

But the brook, in the course of its little lifetime 
among the forest-trees, had gone through so solemn an 






A FOREST WALK. 227 



experience that it could not help talking about it, and 
seemed to have nothing else to say. Pearl resembled 
the brook, inasmuch as the current of her life gushed 
from a well-spring as mysterious, and had flowed 
through scenes shadowed as heavily with gloom. But, 
unlike the little stream, she danced and sparkled, and 
prattled airily along her course. 

" What does this sad little brook say, mother ? " in- 
quired she. 

"If thou hadst a sorrow of thine own, the brook 
might tell thee of it," answered her mother, " even as it 
is telling me of mine ! But now, Pearl, I hear a foot- 
step along the path, and the noise of one putting aside 
the branches. I would have thee betake thyself to 
play, and leave me to speak with him that comes yon- 
der." 

" Is it the Black Man ? " asked Pearl. 

" Wilt thou go and play, child ? " repeated her moth- 
er. " But do not stray far into the wood. And take 
heed that thou come at my first call." 

" Yes, mother," answered Pearl. " But, if it be the 
Black Man, wilt thou not let me stay a moment, and 
look at him, with his big book under his arm ? " 

" Go, silly child ! " said her mother, impatiently. 
" It is no Black Man ! Thou canst see him now 
through the trees. It is the minister ! " 

"And so it is!" said the child. "And, mother, he 
has his hand over his heart ! Is it because, when the 
minister wrote his name in the book, the Black Man 
set his mark in that place ? But why does he not 
wear it outside his bosom, as thou dost, mother? " 



228 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

" Go now, child, and thou shalt tease me as thou 
wilt another time ! " cried Hester Prynne. " But do 
not stray far. Keep where thou canst hear the babble 
of the brook." 

The child went singing away, following up the cur- 
rent of the brook, and striving to mingle a more light- 
some cadence with its melancholy voice. But the little 
stream would not be comforted, and still kept telling its 
unintelligible secret of some very mournful mystery 
that had happened — or making a prophetic lamenta- 
tion about something that was yet to happen — within 
the verge of the dismal forest. So Pearl, who had 
enough of shadow in her own little life, chose to break 
off all acquaintance with this repining brook. She set 
herself, therefore, to gathering violets and wood-anem- 
ones, and some scarlet columbines that she found 
growing in the crevices of a high rock. 

When her elf-child had departed, Hester Prynne 
made a step or two towards the track that led through 
the forest, but still remained under the deep shadow of 
the trees. She beheld the minister advancing along 
the path, entirely alone, and leaning on a staff which 
he had cut by the way-side. He looked haggard and 
feeble, and betrayed a nerveless despondency in his 
air, which had never so remarkably characterized him 
in his walks about the settlement, nor in any other situ- 
ation where he deemed himself liable to notice. Here 
it was wofully visible, in this intense seclusion of the 
forest, which of itself would have been a heavy trial to 
the spirits. There was a listlessness in his gait ; as if 
he saw no reason for taking one step farther, nor felt 



A FOREST WALK. 



229 



any desire to do so, but would have been glad, could he 
be glad of any thing, to fling himself down at the root 
of the nearest tree, and lie there passive for evermore. 
The leaves might bestrew him, and the soil gradually 
accumulate and form a little hillock over his frame, no 
matter whether there were life in it or no. Death was 
too definite an object to be wished for, or avoided. 

To Hester's eye, the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale ex- 
hibited no symptom of positive and vivacious suffering, 
except that, as little Pearl had remarked, he kept his 
hand over his heart. 



230 THE SCARLET LETTER. 



XVII. 

THE PASTOR AND HIS PARISHIONER. 

Slowly as the minister walked, he had almost gone 
by, before Hester Prynne could gather voice enough to 
attract his observation. At length, she succeeded. 

" Arthur Dimmesdale ! " she said, faintly at first ; 
then louder, but hoarsely. " Arthur Dimmesdale ! " 

" Who speaks ? " answered the minister. 

Gathering himself quickly up, he stood more erect, 
like a man taken by surprise in a mood to which he 
was reluctant to have witnesses. Throwing his eyes 
anxiously in the direction of the voice, he indistinctly 
beheld a form under the trees, clad in garments so 
sombre, and so little relieved from the gray twilight 
into which the clouded sky and the heavy foliage had 
darkened the noontide, that he knew not whether it 
were a woman or a shadow. It may be, that his path- 
way through life was haunted thus, by a spectre that 
had stolen out from among his thoughts. 

He made a step nigher, and discovered the scarlet 
letter. 

" Hester ! Hester Prynne ! " said he. " Is it thou ? 
Art thou in life ? " 

" Even so ! " she answered. " In such life as has 
been mine these seven years past ! And thou, Arthur 
Dimmesdale, dost thou yet live ? " 



THE PASTOR AND HIS PARISHIONER. 231 

It was no wonder that they thus questioned one 
another's actual and bodily existence, and even doubted 
of their own. So strangely did they meet, in the dim 
wood, that it was like the first encounter, in the world 
beyond the grave, of two spirits who had been inti- 
mately connected in their former life, but now stood 
coldly shuddering, in mutual dread ; as not yet familiar 
with their state, nor wonted to the companionship of 
disembodied beings. Each a ghost, and awe-stricken 
at the other ghost ! They were awe-stricken likewise 
at themselves ; because the crisis flung back to them 
their consciousness, and revealed to each heart its his- 
tory and experience, as life never does, except at such 
breathless epochs. The soul beheld its features in the 
mirror of the passing moment. It was with fear, and 
tremulously, and, as it were, by a slow, reluctant ne- 
cessity, that Arthur Dimmesdale put forth his hand, 
chill as death, and touched the chill hand of Hester 
Prynne. The grasp, cold as it was, took away what 
was dreariest in the interview. They now felt them- 
selves, at least, inhabitants of the same sphere. 

Without a word more spoken, — neither he nor she 
assuming the guidance, but with an unexpressed con- 
sent, — they glided back into the shadow of the woods, 
whence Hester had emerged, and sat down on the heap 
of moss where she and Pearl had before been sitting. 
When they found voice to speak, it was, at first, only 
to utter remarks and inquiries such as any two ac- 
quaintance might have made, about the gloomy sky, 
the threatening storm, and, next, the health of each. 
Thus they went onward, not boldly, but step by step, 



232 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

into the themes that were brooding deepest in their 
hearts. So long estranged by fate and circumstances, 
they needed something slight and casual to run before, 
and throw open the doors of intercourse, so that their 
real thoughts might be led across the threshold. 

After a while, the minister fixed his eyes on Hester 
Prynne's. 

" Hester," said he, " hast thou found peace ? " 

She smiled drearily, looking down upon her bosom. 

" Hast thou ? " she asked. 

" None ! — nothing but despair ! " he answered. 
" What else could I look for, being what I am, and 
leading such a life as mine ? Were I an atheist, — a 
man devoid of conscience, — a wretch with coarse and 
brutal instincts, — I might have found peace, long ere 
now. Nay, I never should have lost it ! But, as mat- 
ters stand with my soul, whatever of good capacity 
there originally was in me, all of God's gifts that were 
the choicest have become the ministers of spiritual 
torment. Hester, I am most miserable ! " 

" The people reverence thee," said Hester. " And 
surely thou workest good among them ! Doth this 
bring thee no comfort ? " 

" More misery, Hester ! — only the more misery ! " 
answered the clergyman, with a bitter smile. "As 
concerns the good which I may appear to do, I have 
no faith in it. It must needs be a delusion. % What can 
a ruined soul, like mine, effect towards the redemption 
of other souls ? — or a polluted soul, towards their pu- 
rification ? And as for the people's reverence, would 
that it were turned to scorn and hatred ! Canst thou 



THE PASTOR AND HIS PARISHIONER. 233 

deem it, Hester, a consolation, that I must stand up in 
my pulpit, and meet so many eyes turned upward to my 
face, as if the light of heaven were beaming from it ! 
— must see my flock hungry for the truth, and listen- 
ing to my words as if a tongue of Pentecost were 
speaking ! — and then look inward, and discern the 
black reality of what they idolize ? I have laughed, in 
bitterness and agony of heart, at the contrast between 
what I seem and what I am ! And Satan laughs at 
it ! " 

" You wrong yourself in this," said Hester, gently. 
| You have deeply and sorely repented. Your sin is 
left behind you, in the days long past. Your present 
life is not less holy, in very truth, than it seems in 
people's eyes. Is there no reality in the penitence 
thus sealed and witnessed by good works ? And 
wherefore should it not bring you peace ? " 

: " No, Hester, no ! " replied the clergyman. " There 
is no substance in it ! It is cold and dead, and can do 
nothing for me ! Of penance I have had enough ! Of 
penitence there has been none ! Else, I should long 
ago have thrown off these garments of mock holiness, 
and have shown myself to mankind as they will see 
me at the judgment-seat. Happy are you, Hester, that 
wear the scarlet letter openly upon your bosom ! Mine 
burns in secret ! Thou little knowest what a relief it 
is, after the torment of a seven years' cheat, to look 
into an eye that recognizes me for what I am ! Had 
I one friend, — or were it my worst enemy ! — to whom, 
"when sickened with the praises of all other men, I 
could daily betake myself, and be known as the vilest 



234 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

of all sinners, methinks my soul might keep itself alive 
thereby. Even thus much of truth would save me ! 
But, now, it is all falsehood ! — all emptiness ! — all 
death ! " 

Hester Prynne looked into his face, but hesitated to 
speak. Yet, uttering his long-restrained emotions so 
vehemently as he did, his words here offered her the 
very point of circumstances in which to interpose what 
she came to say. She conquered her fears, and spoke. 

" Such a friend as thou hast even now wished for," 
said she, " with whom to weep over thy sin, thou hast 
in me, the partner of it ! " — Again she hesitated, but 
brought out the words with an effort. — " Thou hast 
long had such an enemy, and dwellest with him under 
the same roof ! " 

The minister started to his feet, gasping for breath, 
and clutching at his heart as if he would have torn it 
out of his bosom. 

" Ha ! What sayest thou ? " cried he. " An ene- 
my ! And under mine own roof! What mean you ? " 

Hester Prynne was now fully sensible of the deep 
injury for which she was responsible to this unhappy 
man, in permitting him to lie for so many years, or, 
indeed, for a single moment, at the mercy of one, 
whose purposes could not be other than malevolent. 
The very contiguity of his enemy, beneath whatever 
mask the latter might conceal himself, was enough to 
disturb the magnetic sphere of a being so sensitive as 
Arthur Dimmesdale. There had been a period when 
Hester was less alive to this consideration ; or, perhaps, 
in the misanthropy of her own trouble, she left the 



THE PASTOR AND HIS PARISHIONER. 235 

minister to bear what she might picture to herself as a 
more tolerable doom. But of late, since the night of 
his vigil, all her sympathies towards him had been both 
softened and invigorated. She now read his heart 
more accurately. She doubted not, that the continual 
presence of Roger Chillingworth, — the secret poison 
of his malignity, infecting all the air about him, — and 
his authorized interference, as a physician, with the 
minister's physical and spiritual infirmities, — that these 
bad opportunities had been turned to a cruel purpose. 
By means of them, the sufferer's conscience had been 
kept in an irritated state, the tendency of which was, 
not to cure by wholesome pain, but to disorganize and 
corrupt his spiritual being. Its result, on earth, could 
hardly fail to be insanity, and hereafter, that eternal 
alienation from the Good and True, of which madness 
is perhaps the earthly type. 
. Such was the ruin to which she had brought the 
man, once, — nay, why should we not speak it ? — 
still so passionately loved ! Hester felt that the sacri- 
fice of the clergyman's good name, and death itself, as 
she had already told Roger Chillingworth, would have 
been infinitely preferable to the alternative which she 
had taken upon herself to choose. And now, rather 
than have had this grievous wrong to confess, she 
would gladly have lain down on the forest-leaves, and 
died there, at Arthur Dimmesdale's feet. 

" O Arthur," cried she, " forgive me ! In all things 
else, I have striven to be true ! Truth was the one 
virtue which I might have held fast, and did hold fast 
through all extremity ; save when thy good, — thy life, 



236 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

— thy fame, — were put in question! Then I con- 
sented to a deception. But a lie is never good, even 
though death threaten on the other side ! Dost thou 
not see what I would say ? That old man ! — the 
physician ! — he whom they call Roger Chillingworth ! 

— he was my husband ! " 

The minister looked at her, for an instant, with all 
that violence of passion, which — intermixed, in more 
shapes than one, with his higher, purer, softer qualities 

— was, in fact, the portion of him which the Devil 
claimed, and through which he sought to win the rest. 
Never was there a blacker or a fiercer frown, than 
Hester now encountered. For the brief space that it 
lasted, it was a dark transfiguration. But his character 
had been so much enfeebled by suffering, that even its 
lower energies were incapable of more than a tem- 
porary struggle. He sank down on the ground, and 
buried his face in his hands. 

" I might have known it ! " murmured he. " I did 
know it ! Was not the secret told me in the natural 
recoil of my heart, at the first sight of him, and as 
often as I have seen him since ? Why did I not under- 
stand ? O Hester Prynne, thou little, little knowest 
all the horror of this thing ! And the shame ! — the 
indelicacy ! — the horrible ugliness of this exposure of 
a sick and guilty heart to the very eye that would gloat 
over it ! Woman, woman, thou art accountable for 
this ! I cannot forgive thee ! " 

" Thou shalt forgive me ! " cried Hester, flinging 
herself on the fallen leaves beside him. " Let God 
punish ! Thou shalt forgive ! " 



THE PASTOR AND HIS PARISHIONER. 237 

With sudden and desperate tenderness, she threw 
her arms around him, and pressed his head against her 
bosom ; little caring though his cheek rested on the 
scarlet letter. He would have released himself, but 
strove in vain to do so. Hester would not set him free, 
lest he should look her sternly in the face. All the 
world had frowned on her, — for seven long years had 
it frowned upon this lonely woman, — and still she bore 
it all, nor ever once turned away her firm, sad eyes. 
Heaven, likewise, had frowned upon her, and she had 
not died. But the frown of this pale, weak, sinful, and 
sorrow-stricken man was what Hester could not bear, 
and live ! 

" Wilt thou yet forgive me ? " she repeated, over 
and over again. " Wilt thou not frown ? Wilt thou 
forgive ? " 

" I do forgive you, Hester," replied the minister, at 
lejigth, with a deep utterance out of an abyss of sad- 
ness, but no anger. " I freely forgive you now. 
May God forgive us both ! We are not, Hester, the 
worst sinners in the world. There is one worse than 
even the polluted priest ! That old man's revenge has 
been blacker than my sin. He has violated, in cold 
blood, the sanctity of a human heart. Thou and I, 
Hester, never did so ! " 

" Never, never ! " whispered she. " What we did 
had a consecration of its own. We felt it so ! We 
said so to each other ! Hast thou forgotten it ? " 

" Hush, Hester ! " said Arthur Dimmesdale, rising 
from the ground. "No; I have not forgotten ! " 

They sat down again, side by side, and hand clasped 



238 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

in hand, on the mossy trunk of the fallen tree. Life 
had never brought them a gloomier hour ; it was the 
point whither their pathway had so long been tending, 
and darkening ever, as it stole along ; — and yet it 
inclosed a charm that made them linger upon it, and 
claim another, and another, and, after all, another mo- 
ment. The forest was obscure around them, and 
creaked with a blast that was passing through it. The 
boughs were tossing heavily above their heads ; while 
one solemn old tree groaned dolefully to another, as if 
telling the sad story of the pair that sat beneath, or 
constrained to forebode evil to come. 

And yet they lingered. How dreary looked the 
forest-track that led backward to the settlement, where 
Hester Prynne must take up again the burden of her 
ignominy, and the minister the hollow mockery of his 
good name ! So they lingered an instant longer. No 
golden light had ever been so precious as the gloom of 
this dark forest. Here, seen only by his eyes, the 
scarlet letter need not burn into the bosom of the fallen 
woman ! Here, seen only by her eyes, Arthur Dim- 
mesdale, false to God and man, might be, for one mo- 
ment, true ! 

He started at a thought that suddenly occurred to 
him. 

" Hester," cried he, " here is a new horror ! Roger 
Chillingworth knows your purpose to reveal his true 
character. Will he continue, then, to keep our secret ? 
What will now be the course of his revenge ? " 

" There is a strange secrecy in his nature," replied 
Hester, thoughtfully ; " and it has grown upon him by 



THE PASTOR AND HIS PARISHIONER. 239 

the hidden practices of his revenge. I deem it not 
likely that he will betray the secret. He will doubtless 
seek other means of satiating his dark passion." 

" And I ! — how am I to live longer, breathing the 
same air with this deadly enemy ? " exclaimed Arthur 
Dimmesdale, shrinking within himself, and pressing his 
hand nervously against his heart, — a gesture that had 
grown involuntary with him. " Think for me, Hes- 
ter ! Thou art strong. Resolve for me ! " 

" Thou must dwell no longer with this man," said 
Hester, slowly and firmly. " Thy heart must be no 
longer under his evil eye ! " 

" It were far worse than death ! " replied the min- 
ister. " But how to avoid it ? What choice remains 
to me ? Shall I lie down again on these withered 
leaves, where I cast myself when thou didst tell me 
what he was ? Must I sink down there, and die at 
once ? " 

" Alas, what a ruin has befallen thee ! " said Hester, 
with the tears gushing into her eyes. " Wilt thou die 
for very weakness ? There is no other cause ! " 

" The judgment of God is on me," answered the 
conscience-stricken priest. " It is too mighty for me 
to struggle with ! " 

" Heaven would show mercy," rejoined Hester, 
" hadst thou but the strength to take advantage of it." 

u Be thou strong for me ! " answered he. " Advise 
me what to do." 

" Is the world then so narrow ? " exclaimed Hester 
Prynne, fixing her deep eyes on the minister's, and in- 
stinctively exercising a magnetic power over a spirit so 



240 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

shattered and subdued, that it could hardly hold itself 
erect. " Doth the universe lie within the compass of 
yonder town, which only a little time ago was but a 
leaf-strewn desert, as lonely as this around us ? Whither 
leads yonder forest-track ? Backward to the settle- 
ment, thou sayest ! Yes ; but onward, too ! Deeper 
it goes, and deeper, into the wilderness, less plainly to 
be seen at every step ; until, some few miles hence, 
the yellow leaves will show no vestige of the white 
man's tread. There thou art free ! So brief a journey 
would bring thee from a world where thou hast been 
most wretched, to one where thou mayest still be happy! 
Is there not shade enough in all this boundless forest to 
hide thy heart from the gaze of Roger Chillingworth ? " 

" Yes, Hester ; but only under the fallen leaves ! " 
replied the minister, with a sad smile. 

" Then there is the broad pathway of the sea ! " 
continued Hester. " It brought thee hither. If thou 
so choose, it will bear thee back again. In our native 
land, whether in some remote rural village or in vast 
London, — or, surely, in Germany, in France, in pleas- 
ant Italy, — thou wouldst be beyond his power and 
knowledge ! And what hast thou to do with all these 
iron men, and their opinions ? They have kept thy 
better part in bondage too long already ! " 

" It cannot be ! " answered the minister, listening as 
if he were called upon to realize a dream. " I am 
powerless to go. Wretched and sinful as I am, I have 
had no other thought than to drag on my earthly ex- 
istence in the sphere where Providence hath placed me. 
Lost as my own soul is, I would still do what I may for 



THE PASTOR AND HIS PARISHIONER. 241 

other human souls ! I dare not quit my post, though 
an unfaithful sentinel, whose sure reward is death and 
dishonor, when his dreary watch shall come to an 
end ! " 

" Thou art crushed under this seven years' weight 
of misery," replied Hester, fervently resolved to buoy 
him up with her own energy. " But thou shalt leave 
it all behind thee ! It shall not cumber thy steps, as 
thou treadest along the forest-path ; neither shalt thou 
freight the ship with it, if thou prefer to cross the sea. 
Leave this wreck and ruin here where it hath hap- 
pened ! Meddle no more with it ! Begin all anew ! 
Hast thou exhausted possibility in the failure of this 
one trial ? Not so ! The future is yet full of trial and 
success. There is happiness to be enjoyed ! There is 
good to be done ! Exchange this false life of thine for 
a true one. Be, if thy spirit summon thee to such a 
mission, the teacher and apostle of the red men. Or, 
— as is more thy nature, — be a scholar and a sage 
among the wisest and the most renowned of the culti- 
vated world. Preach ! Write ! Act ! Do any thing, 
save to lie down and die ! Give up this name of Arthur 
Dimmesdale, and make thyself another, and a high 
one, such as thou canst wear without fear or shame- 
Why shouldst thou tarry so much as one other day in 
the torments that have so gnawed into thy life ! — that 
have made thee feeble to will and to do ! — that will 
leave thee powerless even to repent ! Up, and away ! " 

" O Hester ! " cried Arthur Dimmesdale, in whose 
eyes a fitful light, kindled by her enthusiasm, flashed 
up and died away, " thou tellest of running a race to a 
16 



242 



man whose knees are tottering beneath him ! I must 
die here. There is not the strength or courage left 
me to venture into the wide, strange, difficult world, 
alone ! " 

It was the last expression of the despondency of a 
broken spirit. He lacked energy to grasp the better 
fortune that seemed within his reach. 

He repeated the word. 

" Alone, Hester ! " 

" Thou shalt not go alone ! " answered she, in a deep 
whisper. 

Then, all was spoken ! 



A FLOOD OF SUNSHINE. 243 



XVIII. 

A FLOOD OF SUNSHINE. 

Arthur Dimmesdale gazed into Hester's face with 
a look in which hope and joy shone out, indeed, but 
with fear betwixt them, and a kind of horror at her 
boldness, who had spoken what he vaguely hinted at, 
but dared not speak. 

But Hester Prynne, with a mind of native courage 
and activity, and for so long a period not merely 
estranged, but outlawed, from society, had habituated 
herself to such latitude of speculation as was altogether 
foreign to the clergyman. She had wandered, without 
rule or guidance, in a moral wilderness ; as vast, as 
intricate and shadowy, as the untamed forest, amid the 
gloom of which they were now holding a colloquy that 
was to decide their fate. Her intellect and heart had 
their home, as it were, in desert places, where she 
roamed as freely as the wild Indian in his woods. For 
years past she had looked from this estranged point of 
view at human institutions, and whatever priests or 
legislators had established ; criticizing all with hardly 
more reverence than the Indian would feel for the 
clerical band, the judicial robe, the pillory, the gal- 
lows, the fireside, or the church. The tendency of 
her fate and fortunes had been to set her free. The 



244 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 



scarlet letter was her passport into regions where 
other women dared not tread. Shame, Despair, Soli- 
tude ! These had been her teachers, — stern and wile 
ones, — and they had made her strong, but taught hei 
much amiss. 

The minister, on the other hand, had never gon< 
through an experience calculated to lead him beyom 
the scope of generally received laws; although, in 
single instance, he had so fearfully transgressed one of 
the most sacred of them. But this had been a sin 
passion, not of principle, nor even purpose. Since th{ 
wretched epoch, he had watched, with morbid zeal anc 
minuteness, not his acts, — for those it was easy to ar- 
range, — but each breath of emotion, and his evei 
thought. At the head of the social system, as the cler- 
gymen of that day stood, he was only the more tram- 
melled by its regulations, its principles, and even its 
prejudices. As a priest, the framework of his order 
inevitably hemmed him in. As a man who had one* 
sinned, but who kept his conscience all alive and pain- 
fully sensitive by the fretting of an unhealed wound, he 
might have been supposed safer within the line of vir 
tue, than if he had never sinned at all. 

Thus, we seem to see that, as regarded Hestei 
Prynne, the whole seven years of outlaw and ignomim 
had been little other than a preparation for this vei 
hour. But Arthur Dimmesdale ! Were such a mar 
once more to fall, what plea could be urged in extenu- 
ation of his crime ? None ; unless it avail him some- 
what, that he was broken down by long and exquisite 
suffering ; that his mind was darkened and confused b} 



A FLOOD OF SUNSHINE. 245 

the very remorse which harrowed it; that, between 
fleeing as an avowed criminal, and remaining as a hyp- 
ocrite, conscience might find it hard to strike the bal- 
ance ; that it was human to avoid the peril of death 
and infamy, and the inscrutable machinations of an 
enemy ; that, finally, to this poor pilgrim, on his dreary 
and desert path, faint, sick, miserable, there appeared 
a glimpse of human affection and sympathy, a new 
life, and a true one, in exchange for the heavy doom 
which he was now expiating. And be the stern and 
sad truth spoken, that the breach which guilt has once 
made into the human soul is never, in this mortal state, 
repaired. It may be watched and guarded ; so that the 
enemy shall not force his way again into the citadel, 
and might even, in his subsequent assaults, select some 
other avenue, in preference to that where he had for- 
merly succeeded. But there is still the ruined wall, 
and, near it, the stealthy tread of the foe that would 
win over again his unforgotten triumph. 

The struggle, if there were one, need not be de- 
scribed. Let it suffice, that the clergyman resolved to 
flee, and not alone. 

" If, in all these past seven years," thought he, " I 
could recall one instant of peace or hope, I would yet 
endure, for the sake of that earnest of Heaven's mercy. 
But now, — since I am irrevocably doomed, — where- 
fore should I not snatch the solace allowed to the con- 
demned culprit before his execution ? Or, if this be 
the path to a better life, as Hester would persuade me, 
I surely give up no fairer prospect by pursuing it! 
Neither can I any longer live without her companion- 



246 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

ship ; so powerful is she to sustain, — so tender to 
soothe ! O Thou to whom I dare not lift mine eyes, 
wilt Thou yet pardon me ! " 

" Thou wilt go ! " said Hester calmly, as he met her 
glance. 

The decision once made, a glow of strange enjoy- 
ment threw its nickering brightness over the trouble of 
his breast. It was the exhilarating effect — upon a pris- 
oner just escaped from the dungeon of his own heart — 
of breathing the wild, free atmosphere of an unre- 
deemed, unchristianized, lawless region. His spirit 
rose, as it were, with a bound, and attained a nearer 
prospect of the sky, than throughout all the misery 
which had kept him grovelling on the earth. Of a 
deeply religious temperament, there was inevitably a 
tinge of the devotional in his mood. 

"Do I feel joy again?" cried he, wondering at him- 
self. " Methought the germ of it was dead in me ! 
O Hester, thou art my better angel ! I seem to have 
flung myself — sick, sin-stained, and sorrow-blackened 
— down upon these forest-leaves, and to have risen up 
all made anew, and with new powers to glorify Him 
that hath been merciful ! This is already the better 
life ! Why did we not find it sooner ?" 

" Let us not look back," answered Hester Prynne. 
" The past is gone ! Wherefore should we linger upon 
it now ? See ! With this symbol, I undo it all, and 
make it as it had never been ! " 

So speaking, she undid the clasp that fastened the 
scarlet letter, and, taking it from her bosom, threw it 
to a distance among the withered leaves. The mystic 



A FLOOD OF SUNSHINE. 247 

token alighted on the hither verge of the stream. With 
a hand's breadth farther flight it would have fallen into 
the water, and have given the little brook another woe 
to carry onward, besides the unintelligible tale which it 
still kept murmuring about. But there lay the em- 
broidered letter, glittering like a lost jewel, which some 
ill-fated wanderer might pick up, and thenceforth be 
haunted by strange phantoms of guilt, sinkings of the 
heart, and unaccountable misfortune. 

The stigma gone, Hester heaved a long, deep sigh, 
in which the burden of shame and anguish departed 
from her spirit. O exquisite relief ! She had not 
known the weight, until she felt the freedom ! By 
another impulse, she took off the formal cap that con- 
fined her hair; and down it fell upon her shoulders, 
dark and rich, with at once a shadow and a light in its 
abundance, and imparting the charm of softness to her 
features. There played around her mouth, and beamed 
out of her eyes, a radiant and tender smile, that seemed 
gushing from the very heart of womanhood. A crim- 
son flush was glowing on her cheek, that had been long 
so pale. Her sex, her youth, and the whole richness 
of her beauty, came back from what men call the 
irrevocable past, and clustered themselves, with her 
maiden hope, and a happiness before unknown, within 
the magic circle of this hour. And, as if the gloom of 
the earth and sky had been but the effluence of these 
two mortal hearts, it vanished with their sorrow. All 
at once, as with a sudden smile of heaven, forth burst 
the sunshine, pouring a very flood into the obscure 
forest, gladdening each green leaf, transmuting the 



248 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

yellow fallen ones to gold, and gleaming adown the 
gray trunks of the solemn trees. The objects that had 
made a shadow hitherto, embodied the brightness now. 
The course of the little brook might be traced by its 
merry gleam afar into the wood's heart of mystery, 
which had become a mystery of joy. 

Such was the sympathy of Nature — that wild, 
heathen Nature of the forest, never subjugated by hu- 
man law, nor illumined by higher truth — with the 
bliss of these two spirits ! Love, whether newly born, 
or aroused from a deathlike slumber, must always 
create a sunshine, filling the heart so full of radiance, 
that it overflows upon the outward world. Had the 
forest still kept its gloom, it would have been bright in 
Hester's eyes, and bright in Arthur Dimmesdale's ! 

Hester looked at him with the thrill of another joy. 

" Thou must know Pearl ! " said she. " Our little 
Pearl ! Thou hast seen her, — yes, I know it ! — but 
thou wilt see her now with other eyes. She is a 
strange child ! I hardly comprehend her ! But thou 
wilt love her dearly, as I do, and wilt advise me how to 
deal with her." 

" Dost thou think the child will be glad to know 
me ? " asked the minister, somewhat uneasily. " I 
have long shrunk from children, because they often 
show a distrust, — a backwardness to be familiar with 
me. I have even been afraid of little Pearl ! " 

" Ah, that was sad ! " answered the mother. " But 
she will love thee dearly, and thou her. She is not far 
off. I will call her ! Pearl ! Pearl ! " 

" I see the child," observed the minister. " Yonder 






A FLOOD OF SUNSHINE. 249 

she is, standing in a streak of sunshine, a good way off, 
on the other side of the brook. So thou thinkest the 
child will love me ? " 

Hester smiled, and again called to Pearl, who was 
visible, at some distance, as the minister had described 
her, like a bright-apparelled vision, in a sunbeam, which 
fell down upon her through an arch of boughs. The 
ray quivered to and fro, making her figure dim or dis- 
tinct, — now like a real child, now like a child's spirit, 
— as the splendor went and came again. She heard 
her mother's voice, and approached slowly through the 
forest. 

Pearl had not found the hour pass wearisomely, 
while her mother sat talking with the clergyman. The 
great black forest — stern as it showed itself to those 
who brought the guilt and troubles of the world into its 
bosom — became the playmate of the lonely infant, as 
well as it knew how. Sombre as it was, it put on the 
kindest of its moods to welcome her. It offered her 
the partridge-berries, the growth of the preceding 
autumn, but ripening only in the spring, and now red 
as drops of blood upon the withered leaves. These 
Pearl gathered, and was pleased with their wild flavor. 
The small denizens of the wilderness hardly took pains 
to move out of her path. A partridge, indeed, with a 
brood of ten behind her, ran forward threateningly, but 
soon repented of her fierceness, and clucked to her 
young ones not to be afraid. A pigeon, alone on a low 
branch, allowed Pearl to come beneath, and uttered a 
sound as much of greeting as alarm. A squirrel, from 
the lofty depths of his domestic tree, chattered either 



250 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

in anger or merriment, — for a squirrel is such a 
choleric and humorous little personage that it is hard 
to distinguish between his moods, — so he chattered 
at the child, and flung down a nut upon her head. It 
was a last year's nut, and already gnawed by his sharp 
tooth. A fox, startled from his sleep by her light foot- 
step on the leaves, looked inquisitively at Pearl, as 
doubting whether it were better to steal off, or renew 
his nap on the same spot. A wolf, it is said, — but 
here the tale has surely lapsed into the improbable, — 
came up, and smelt of Pearl's robe, and offered his 
savage head to be patted by her hand. The truth 
seems to be, however, that the mother-forest, and these 
wild things which it nourished, all recognized a kin- 
dred wildness in the human child. 

And she was gentler here than in the grassy-margined 
streets of the settlement, or in her mother's cottage. 
The flowers appeared to know it; and one and an- 
other whispered, as she passed, " Adorn thyself with 
me, thou beautiful child, adorn thyself with me ! " — 
and, to please them, Pearl gathered the violets, and 
anemones, and columbines, and some twigs of the 
freshest green, which the old trees held down before 
her eyes. With these she decorated her hair, and her 
young waist, and became a nymph-child, or an infant 
dryad, or whatever else was in closest sympathy with 
the antique wood. In such guise had Pearl adorned 
herself, when she heard her mother's voice, and came 
slowly back. 

Slowly ; for she saw the clergyman ! 



THE CHILD AT THE BROOK-SIDE. 251 



XIX. 

THE CHILD AT THE BROOK-SIDE. 

" Thou wilt love her dearly," repeated Hester 
Prynne, as she and the minister sat watching little 
Pearl. " Dost thou not think her beautiful ? And 
see with what natural skill she has made those simple 
flowers adorn her ! Had she gathered pearls, and dia- 
monds, and rubies, in the wood, they could not have 
become her better. She is a splendid child ! But I 
know whose brow she has ! " 

" Dost thou know, Hester," said Arthur Dimmesdale, 
wkh an unquiet smile, " that this dear child, tripping 
about always at thy side, hath caused me many an 
alarm ? Methought — O Hester, what a thought is 
that, and how terrible to dread it ! — that my own fea- 
tures were partly repeated in her face, and so striking- 
ly that the world might see them ! But she is mostly 
thine ! " 

" No, no ! Not mostly ! " answered the mother 
with a tender smile. " A little longer, and thou need- 
est not to be afraid to trace whose child she is. But 
how strangely beautiful she looks, with those wild 
flowers in her hair ! It is as if one of the fairies, whom 
we left in our dear old England, had decked her out 
to meet us." 



252 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

It was with a feeling which neither of them had 
ever before experienced, that they sat and watched 
Pearl's slow advance. In her was visible the tie that 
united them. She had been offered to the world, these 
seven years past, as the living hieroglyphic, in which 
was revealed the secret they so darkly sought to hide, 

— all written in this symbol, — all plainly manifest, 

— had there been a prophet or magician skilled to 
read the character of flame ! And Pearl was the one- 
ness of their being. Be the foregone evil what it might, 
how could they doubt that their earthly lives and future 
destinies were conjoined, when they beheld at once the 
material union, and the spiritual idea, in whom they 
met, and were to dwell immortally together ? Thoughts 
like these — and perhaps other thoughts, which they 
did not acknowledge or define — threw an awe about 
the child, as she came onward. 

" Let her see nothing strange — no passion nor 
eagerness — in thy way of accosting her," whispered 
Hester. " Our Pearl is a fitful and fantastic little elf, 
sometimes. Especially, she is seldom tolerant of emo- 
tion, when she does not fully comprehend the why and 
wherefore. But the child hath strong affections ! She 
loves me, and will love thee ! " 

" Thou canst not think," said the minister, glancing 
aside at Hester Prynne, " how my heart dreads this 
interview, and yearns for it ! But, in truth, as I al- 
ready told thee, children are not readily won to be 
familiar with me. They will not climb my knee, 
nor prattle in my ear, nor answer to my smile ; but 
stand apart, and eye me strangely. Even little babes, 



THE CHILD AT THE BROOK-SIDE. 253 

when I take them in my arms, weep bitterly. Yet 
Pearl, twice in her little lifetime, hath been kind to 
me ! The first time, — thou knowest it well ! The 
last was when thou ledst her with thee to the house of 
yonder stern old Governor." 

" And thou didst plead so bravely in her behalf and 
mine ! " answered the mother. " I remember it ; and 
so shall little Pearl. Fear nothing ! She may be strange 
and shy at first, but will soon learn to love thee ! " 

By this time Pearl had reached the margin of the 
brook, and stood on the farther side, gazing silently 
at Hester and the clergyman, who still sat together on 
the mossy tree-trunk, waiting to receive her. Just 
where she had paused the brook chanced to form a 
pool, so smooth and quiet that it reflected a perfect 
image of her little figure, with all the brilliant pictu- 
resqueness of her beauty, in its adornment of flowers 
and wreathed foliage, but more refined and spiritualized 
than the reality. This image, so nearly identical with 
the living Pearl, seemed to communicate somewhat of 
its own shadowy and intangible quality to the child 
herself. It was strange, the way in which Pearl stood, 
looking so stedfastly at them through the dim medium 
of the forest-gloom ; herself, meanwhile, all glorified 
with a ray of sunshine, that was attracted thitherward 
as by a certain sympathy. In the brook beneath stood 
another child, — another and the same, — with likewise 
its ray of golden light. Hester felt herself, in some 
indistinct and tantalizing manner, estranged from Pearl ; 
as if the child, in her lonely ramble through the forest, 
had strayed out of the sphere in which she and her 



254 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

mother dwelt together, and was now vainly seeking to 
return to it. 

There was both truth and error in the impression ; 
the child and mother were estranged, but through Hes- 
ter's fault, not Pearl's. Since the latter rambled from 
her side, another inmate had been admitted within the 
circle of the mother's feelings, and so modified the 
aspect of them all, that Pearl, the returning wanderer, 
could not find her wonted place, and hardly knew 
where she was. 

" I have a strange fancy," observed the sensitive 
minister, "that this brook is the boundary between 
two worlds, and that thou canst never meet thy Pearl 
again. Or is she an elfish spirit, who, as the legends 
of our childhood taught us, is forbidden to cross a run- 
ning stream ? Pray hasten her ; for this delay has al- 
ready imparted a tremor to my nerves." 

" Come, dearest child ! " said Hester encouragingly, 
and stretching out both her arms. " How slow thou 
art ! When hast thou been so sluggish before now ? 
Here is a friend of mine, who must be thy friend also. 
Thou wilt have twice as much love, henceforward, as 
thy mother alone could give thee ! Leap across the 
brook and come to us. Thou canst leap like a young 
deer!" 

Pearl, without responding in any manner to these 
honey-sweet expressions, remained on the other side 
of the brook. Now she fixed her bright, wild eyes 
on her mother, now on the minister, and now included 
them both in the same glance ; as if to detect and ex- 
plain to herself the relation which they bore to one 



THE CHILD AT THE BROOK-SIDE. 255 

another. For some unaccountable reason, as Arthur 
Dimmesdale felt the child's eyes upon himself, his 
hand — with that gesture so habitual as to have be- 
come involuntary — stole over his heart. At length, 
assuming a singular air of authority, Pearl stretched out 
her hand, with the small forefinger extended, and 
pointing evidently towards her mother's breast. And 
beneath, in the mirror of the brook, there was the 
flower-girdled and sunny image of little Pearl, pointing 
her small forefinger too. 

"Thou strange child, why dost thou not come to 
me ? " exclaimed Hester. 

Pearl still pointed with her forefinger ; and a frown 
gathered on her brow ; the more impressive from the 
childish, the almost baby-like aspect of the features that 
conveyed it. As her mother still kept beckoning to 
her, and arraying her face in a holiday suit of unac- 
customed smiles, the child stamped her foot with a yet 
more imperious look and gesture. In the brook, again, 
was the fantastic beauty of the image, with its reflected 
frown, its pointed finger, and imperious gesture, giving 
emphasis to the aspect of little Pearl. 

" Hasten, Pearl ; or I shall be angry with thee ! " 
cried Hester Prynne, who, however inured to such 
behaviour on the elf-child's part at other seasons, was 
naturally anxious for a more seemly deportment now. 
" Leap across the brook, naughty child, and run 
hither ! Else I must come to thee ! " 

But Pearl, not a whit startled at her mother's threats, 
any more than mollified by her entreaties, now sud- 
denly burst into a fit of passion, gesticulating violently, 



256 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

and throwing her small figure into the most extravagant 
contortions. She accompanied this wild outbreak with 
piercing shrieks, which the woods reverberated on all 
sides ; so that, alone as she was in her childish and 
unreasonable wrath, it seemed as if a hidden multitude 
were lending her their sympathy and encouragement. 
Seen in the brook, once more, was the shadowy wrath 
of Pearl's image, crowned and girdled with flowers, 
but stamping its foot, wildly gesticulating, and, in the 
midst of all, still pointing its small forefinger at Hes- 
ter's bosom ! 

" I see what ails the child," whispered Hester to the 
clergyman, and turning pale in spite of a strong effort 
to conceal her trouble and annoyance. " Children 
will not abide any, the slightest, change in the accus- 
tomed aspect of things that are daily before their eyes. 
Pearl misses something which she has always seen me 
wear ! " 

" I pray you," answered the minister, " if thou hast 
any means of pacifying the child, do it forthwith ! 
Save it were the cankered wrath of an old witch, like 
Mistress Hibbins," added he, attempting to smile. 
" I know nothing that I would not sooner encounter 
than this passion in a child. In Pearl's young beauty, 
as in the wrinkled witch, it has a preternatural effect. 
Pacify her, if thou lovest me ! " 

Hester turned again towards Pearl, with a crimson 
blush upon her cheek, a conscious glance aside at the 
clergyman, and then a heavy sigh ; while, even before 
she had time to speak, the blush yielded to a deadly 
pallor. 



THE CHILD AT THE BROOK-SIDE. 257 

" Pearl," said she, sadly, " look down at thy feet ! 
There ! — before thee ! — on the hither side of the 
brook ! " 

The child turned her eyes to the point indicated ; 
and there lay the scarlet letter, so close upon the mar- 
gin of the stream, that the gold embroidery was re- 
flected in it. 

" Bring it hither ! " said Hester. 

" Come thou and take it up ! " answered Pearl. 

" Was ever such a child ! " observed Hester aside 
to the minister. " O, I have much to tell thee about 
her. But, in very truth, she is right as regards this 
hateful token. I must bear its torture yet a little longer, 
— only a few days longer, — until we shall have left 
this region, and look back hither as to a land which we 
have dreamed of. The forest cannot hide it! The 
mid-ocean shall take it from my hand, and swallow it 
up for ever ! " 

With these words, she advanced to the margin of the 
brook, took up the scarlet letter, and fastened it again 
into her bosom. Hopefully, but a moment ago, as 
Hester had spoken of drowning it in the deep sea, there 
was a sense of inevitable doom upon her, as she thus 
received back this deadly symbol from the hand of fate. 
She had flung it into infinite space ! — she had drawn 
an hour's free breath ! — and here again was the scar- 
let misery, glittering on the old spot ! So it ever is, 
whether thus typified or no, that an evil deed invests 
itself with the character of doom. Hester next 
gathered up the heavy tresses of her hair, and confined 
them beneath her cap. As if there were a withering 
17 



258 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

spell in the sad letter, her beauty, the warmth and rich- 
ness of her womanhood, departed, like fading sunshine ; 
and a gray shadow seemed to fair across her. 

When the dreary change was wrought, she extended 
her hand to Pearl. 

" Dost thou know thy mother now, child ? " asked 
she, reproachfully, but with a subdued tone. " Wilt 
thou come across the brook, and own thy mother, now 
that she has her shame upon her, — now that she is 
sad ? " 

" Yes ; now I will ! " answered the child, bounding 
across the brook, and clasping Hester in her arms. 
" Now thou art my mother indeed ! And I am thy 
little Pearl ! " 

In a mood of tenderness that was not usual with her, 
she drew down her mother's head, and kissed her brow 
and both her cheeks. But then — by a kind of neces- 
sity that always impelled this child to alloy whatever 
comfort she might 'chance to give with a throb of 
anguish — Pearl put up her mouth, and kissed the 
scarlet letter too ! 

" That was not kind ! " said Hester. " When thou 
hast shown me a little love, thou mockest me ! " 

" Why doth the minister sit yonder ? " asked Pearl. 

"He waits to welcome thee," replied her mother. 
" Come thou, and entreat his blessing ! He loves thee, 
my little Pearl, and loves thy mother too. Wilt thou 
not love him ? Come ! he longs to greet thee ! " 

" Doth he love us ? " said Pearl, looking up with 
acute intelligence into her mother's face. " Will he 
go back with us, hand in hand, we three together, into 
the town ? " 



THE CHiy) AT THE BROOK-SIDE. 259 

" Not now, dear child," answered Hester. " But in 
days to come he will walk hand in hand with us. We 
will have a home and fireside of our own; and thou 
shalt sit upon his knee ; and he will teach thee many- 
things, and love thee dearly. Thou wilt love him ; 
wilt thou not ? " 

" And will he always keep his hand over his heart ? " 
inquired Pearl. 

" Foolish child, what a question is that ! " exclaimed 
her mother. " Come and ask his blessing ! " 

But, whether influenced by the jealousy that seems 
instinctive with every petted child towards a dangerous 
rival, or from whatever caprice of her freakish nature, 
Pearl would show no favor to the clergyman. It was 
only by an exertion of force that her mother brought 
her up to him, hanging back, and manifesting her re- 
luctance by odd grimaces ; of which, ever since her 
babyhood, she had possessed a singular variety, and 
could transform her mobile physiognomy into a series 
of different aspects, with a new mischief in them, each 
and all. The minister — painfully embarrassed, but 
hoping that a kiss might prove a talisman to admit him 
into the child's kindlier regards — bent forward, and 
impressed one on her brow. Hereupon, Pearl broke 
away from her mother, and, running to the brook, 
stooped over it, and bathed her forehead, until the un- 
welcome kiss was quite washed off, and diffused through 
a long lapse of the gliding water. She then remained 
apart, silently watching Hester and the clergyman ; 
while they talked together, and made such arrange- 
ments as were suggested by their new position, and the 
purposes soon to be fulfilled. 



260 THE SCARLET LETTER. 






And now this fateful interview had come to a close. 
The dell was to be left a solitude among its dark, old 
trees, which, with their multitudinous tongues, would 
whisper long of what had passed there, and no mortal 
be the wiser. And the melancholy brook would add 
this other tale to the mystery with which its little heart 
was already overburdened, and whereof it still kept 
up a murmuring babble, with not a whit more cheer- 
fulness of tone than for ages heretofore. 



THE MINISTER IN A MAZE. 261 



XX. 

THE MINISTER IN A MAZE. 

As the minister departed, in advance of Hester 
Prynne and little Pearl, he threw a backward glance ; 
half expecting that he should discover only some faintly 
traced features or outline of the mother and the child, 
slowly fading into the twilight of the woods. So great 
a vicissitude in his life could not at once be received 
as real. But there was Hester, clad in her gray robe, 
still standing beside the tree-trunk, which some blast 
had overthrown a long antiquity ago, and which time 
had ever since been covering with moss, so that these 
two fated ones, with earth's heaviest burden on them, 
might there sit down together, and find a single hour's 
rest and solace. And there was Pearl, too, lightly 
dancing from the margin of the brook, — now that the 
intrusive third person was gone, — and taking her old 
place by her mother's side. So the minister had not 
fallen asleep, and dreamed ! 

In order to free his mind from this indistinctness and 
duplicity of impression, which vexed it with a strange 
disquietude, he recalled and more thoroughly defined 
the plans which Hester and himself had sketched for 
their departure. It had been determined between them, 
that the Old World, with its crowds and cities, offered 



262 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

them a more eligible shelter and concealment than the 
wilds of New England, or all America, with its alter- 
natives of an Indian wigwam, or the few settlements of 
Europeans, scattered thinly along the seaboard. Not 
to speak of the clergyman's health, so inadequate to 
sustain the hardships of a forest life, his native gifts, 
his culture, and his entire development would secure 
him a home only in the midst of civilization and re- 
finement ; the higher the state, the more delicately 
adapted to it the man. In furtherance of this choice, 
it so happened that a ship lay in the harbour ; one of 
those questionable cruisers, frequent at that day, which, 
without being absolutely outlaws of the deep, yet 
roamed over its surface with a remarkable irresponsi- 
bility of character. This vessel had recently arrived 
from the Spanish Main, and, within three days' time, 
would sail for Bristol. Hester Prynne — whose voca- 
tion, as a self-enlisted Sister of Charity, had brought 
her acquainted with the captain and crew — could take 
upon herself to secure the passage of two individuals 
and a child, with all the secrecy which circumstances 
rendered more than desirable. 

The minister had inquired of Hester, with no little 
interest, the precise time at which the vessel might be 
expected to depart. It would probably be on the fourth 
day from the present. " That is most fortunate ! " 
he had then said to himself. Now, why the Reverend 
Mr. Dimmesdale considered it so very fortunate, we 
hesitate to reveal. Nevertheless, — to hold nothing 
back from the reader, — it was because, on the third 
day from the present, he was to preach the Election 



THE MINISTER IN A MAZE. 263 

Sermon ; and, as such an occasion formed an honora- 
ble epoch in the life of a New England clergyman, he 
could not have chanced upon a more suitable mode 
and time of terminating his professional career. " At 
least, they shall say of me," thought this exemplary 
man, " that I leave no public duty unperformed, nor 
ill performed !" Sad, indeed, that an introspection so 
profound and acute as this poor minister's should be so 
miserably deceived ! We have had, and may still 
have, worse things to tell of him ; but none, we appre- 
hend, so pitiably weak ; no evidence, at once so slight 
and irrefragable, of a subtle disease, that had long since 
begun to eat into the real substance of his character. 
No man, for any considerable period, can wear one 
face to himself, and another to the multitude, without 
finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true. 
The excitement of Mr. Dimmesdale's feelings, as he 
returned from his interview with Hester, lent him un- 
accustomed physical energy, and hurried him town- 
ward at a rapid pace. The pathway among the woods 
seemed wilder, more uncouth with its rude natural ob- 
stacles, and less trodden by the foot of man, than he 
remembered it on his outward journey. But he leaped 
across the plashy places, thrust himself through the 
clinging underbrush, climbed the ascent, plunged into 
•the hollow, and overcame, in short, all the difficulties 
of the track, with an unweariable activity that aston- 
ished him. He could not but recall how feebly, and 
with what frequent pauses for breath, he had toiled 
over the same ground only two days before. As he 
drew near the town, he took an impression of change 



264 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

from the series of familiar objects that presented them- 
selves. It seemed not yesterday, not one, nor two, but 
many days, or even years ago, since he had quitted 
them. There, indeed, was each former trace of the 
street, as he remembered it, and all the peculiarities of 
the houses, with the due multitude of gable-peaks, and 
a weathercock at every point where his memory sug- 
gested one. Not the less, however, came this impor- 
tunately obtrusive sense of change. The same was 
true as regarded the acquaintances whom he met, and 
all the well-known shapes of human life, about the lit- 
tle town. They looked neither older nor younger, 
now ; the beards of the aged were no whiter, nor could 
the creeping babe of yesterday walk on his feet to- 
day ; it was impossible to describe in what respect they 
differed from the individuals on whom he had so re- 
cently bestowed a parting glance ; and yet the minister's 
deepest sense seemed to inform him of their mutability. 
A similar impression struck him most remarkably, as 
he passed under the walls of his own church. The 
edifice had so very strange, and yet so familiar, an 
aspect, that Mr. Dimmesdale's mind vibrated between 
two ideas ; either that he had seen it only in a dream 
hitherto, or that he was merely dreaming about it now. 
This phenomenon, in the various shapes which it as- 
sumed, indicated no external change, but so sudden and 
important a change in the spectator of the familiar 
scene, that the intervening space of a single day had 
operated on his consciousness like the lapse of years. 
The minister's own will, and Hester's will, and the fate 
that grew between them, had wrought this transforma- 



THE MINISTER IN A MAZE. 265 

tion. It was the same town as heretofore ; but the 
same minister returned not from the forest. He might 
have said to the friends who greeted him, — "I am not 
the man for whom you take me ! I left him yonder in 
the forest, withdrawn into a secret dell, by a mossy 
tree-trunk, and near a melancholy brook ! Go, seek 
your minister, and see if his emaciated figure, his thin 
cheek, his white, heavy, pain-wrinkled brow, be not 
flung down there like a cast-off garment ! " His friends, 
no doubt, would still have insisted with him, — " Thou 
art thyself the man ! " — but the error would have been 
their own, not his. 

Before Mr. Dimmesdale reached home, his inner 
man gave him other evidences of a revolution in the 
sphere of thought and feeling. In truth, nothing short 
of a total change of dynasty and moral code, in that 
interior kingdom, was adequate to account for the im- 
pulses now communicated to the unfortunate and star- 
tled minister. At every step he was incited to do 
some strange, wild, wicked thing or other, with a 
sense that it would be at once involuntary and inten- 
tional ; in spite of himself, yet growing out of a pro- 
founder self than that which opposed the impulse. 
For instance, he met one of his own deacons. The 
good old man addressed him with the paternal affec- 
tion and patriarchal privilege, which his venerable age, 
his upright and holy character, and his station in the 
Church, entitled him to use ; and, conjoined with this, 
the deep, almost worshipping respect, which the minis- 
ter's professional and private claims alike demanded. 
Never was there a more beautiful example of how the 



266 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

majesty of age and wisdom may comport with the 
obeisance and respect enjoined upon it, as from a lower 
social rank and inferior order of endowment, towards 
a higher. Now, during a conversation of some two or 
three moments between the Reverend Mr. Dimmes- 
dale and this excellent and hoary-bearded deacon, it was 
only by the most careful self-control that the former 
could refrain from uttering certain blasphemous sug- 
gestions that rose into his mind, respecting the com- 
munion-supper. He absolutely trembled and turned 
pale as ashes, lest his tongue should wag itself, in 
utterance of these horrible matters, and plead his own 
consent for so doing, without his having fairly given it. 
And, even with this terror in his heart, he could hard- 
ly avoid laughing to imagine how the sanctified old 
patriarchal deacon would have been petrified by his 
minister's impiety ! 

Again, another incident of the same nature. Hurry- 
ing along the street, the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale en- 
countered the eldest female member of his church ; a 
most pious and exemplary old dame ; poor, widowed, 
lonely, and with a heart as full of reminiscences about 
her dead husband and children, and her dead friends of 
long ago, as a burial-ground is full of storied grave- 
stones. Yet all this, which would else have been such 
heavy sorrow, was made almost a solemn joy to her 
devout old soul by religious consolations and the truths 
of Scripture, wherewith she had fed herself continually 
for more than thirty years. And, since Mr. Dimmes- 
dale had taken her in charge, the good grandam's chief 
earthly comfort — which, unless it had been likewise a 



THE MINISTER IN A MAZE. 267 

heavenly comfort, could have been none at all — was 
to meet her pastor, whether casually, or of set purpose, 
and be refreshed with a word of warm, fragrant, 
heaven-breathing Gospel truth from his beloved lips 
into her dulled, but rapturously attentive ear. But, on 
this occasion, up to the moment of putting his lips to 
the old woman's ear, Mr. Dimmesdale, as the great 
enemy of souls would have it, could recall no text of 
Scripture, nor aught else, except a brief, pithy, and, as 
it then appeared to him, unanswerable argument against 
the immortality of the human soul. The instilment 
thereof into her mind would probably have caused this 
aged sister to drop down dead, at once, as by the effect 
of an intensely poisonous infusion. What he really 
did whisper, the minister could never afterwards recol- 
lect. There was, perhaps, a fortunate disorder in his 
utterance, which failed to impart any distinct idea to 
the good widow's comprehension, or which Providence 
interpreted after a method of its own. Assuredly, as 
the minister looked back, he beheld an expression of 
divine gratitude and ecstasy that seemed like the shine 
of the celestial city on her face, so wrinkled and ashy 
pale. 

Again, a third instance. After parting from the old 
church-member, he met the youngest sister of them all. 
It was a maiden newly won — and won by the Rever- 
end Mr. Dimmesdale's own sermon, on the Sabbath 
after his vigil — to barter the transitory pleasures of the 
world for the heavenly hope, that was to assume brighter 
substance as life grew dark around her, and which would 
gild the utter gloom with final glory. She was fair and 



268 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

pure as a lily that had bloomed in Paradise. The min- 
ister knew well that he was himself enshrined within 
the stainless sanctity of her heart, which hung its 
snowy curtains about his image, imparting to religion 
the warmth of love, and to love a religious purity. 
Satan, that afternoon, had surely led the poor young 
girl away from her mother's side, and thrown her into 
the pathway of this sorely tempted, or — shall we not 
rather say? — this lost and desperate man. As she 
drew nigh, the arch-fiend whispered him to condense 
into small compass and drop into her tender bosom a 
germ of evil that would be sure to blossom darkly soon, 
and bear black fruit betimes. Such was his sense of 
power over this virgin soul, trusting him as she did, 
that the minister felt potent to blight all the field of in- 
v nocence with but one wicked look, and develop all 
its opposite with but a word. So — with a mightier 
struggle than he had yet sustained — he held his Ge- 
neva cloak before his face, and hurried onward, mak- 
ing no sign of recognition, and leaving the young sister 
to digest his rudeness as she might. She ransacked 
her conscience, — which was full of harmless little 
matters, like her pocket or her work-bag, — and took 
herself to task, poor thing, for a thousand imaginary 
faults ; and went about her household duties with swol- 
len eyelids the next morning. 

Before the minister had time to celebrate his victory 
over this last temptation, he was conscious of another 
impulse, more ludicrous, and almost as horrible. It 
was, — we blush to tell it, — it was to stop short in the 
road, and teach some very wicked words to a knot of 



THE MINISTER IN A MAZE. 269 

little Puritan children who were playing there, and had 
but just begun to talk. Denying himself this freak, 
as unworthy of his cloth, he met a drunken seaman, 
one of the ship's crew from the Spanish Main. And, 
here, since he had so valiantly forborne all other wick- 
edness, poor Mr. Dimmesdale longed, at least, to shake 
hands with the tarry blackguard, and recreate himself 
with a few improper jests, such as dissolute sailors so 
abound with, and a volley of good, round, solid, satis- 
factory, and heaven-defying oaths ! It was not so 
much a better principle, as partly his natural good taste, 
and still more his buckramed habit of clerical decorum, 
that carried him safely through the latter crisis. 

" What is it that haunts and tempts me thus ? " cried 
the minister to himself, at length, pausing in the street, 
and striking his hand against his forehead. " Am I 
mad ? or am I given over utterly to the fiend ? Did I 
make a contract with him in the forest, and sign it with 
my blood ? And does he now summon me to its ful- 
filment, by suggesting the performance of every wick- 
edness which his most foul imagination can conceive ? " 

At the moment when the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale 
thus communed with 'himself, and struck his forehead 
with his hand, old Mistress Hibbins, the reputed witch- 
lady, is said to have been passing by. She made a 
very grand appearance ; having on a high head-dress, 
a rich gown of velvet, and a ruff done up with the 
famous yellow starch, of which Ann Turner, her 
especial friend, had taught her the secret, before this 
last good lady had been hanged for Sir Thomas Over- 
bury's murder. Whether the witch had read the min- 



270 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

ister's thoughts, or no, she came to a full stop, looked 
shrewdly into his face, smiled craftily, and — though 
little given to converse with clergymen — began a con- 
versation. 

" So, reverend Sir, you have made a visit into the 
forest," observed the witch-lady, nodding her high 
head-dress at him. " The next time, I pray you to 
allow me only a fair warning, and I shall be proud to 
bear you company. Without taking overmuch upon 
myself, my good word will go far towards gaining any 
strange gentleman a fair reception from yonder poten- 
tate you wot of ! " 

" I profess, madam," answered the clergyman, with 
a grave obeisance, such as the lady's rank demanded, 
and his own good-breeding made imperative, — " I pro- 
fess, on my conscience and character, that I am utterly 
bewildered as touching the purport of your words ! I 
went not into the forest to seek a potentate ; neither do 
I, at any future time, design a visit thither, with a view 
to gaining the favor of such personage. My one 
sufficient object was to greet that pious friend of mine, 
the Apostle Eliot, and rejoice with him over the many 
precious souls he hath won from heathendom ! " 

" Ha, ha, ha ! " cackled the old witch-lady, still nod- 
ding her high head-dress at the minister. " Well, well, 
we must needs talk thus in the daytime ! You carry 
it off like an old hand ! But at midnight, and in the 
forest, we shall have other talk together ! " 

She passed on with her aged stateliness, but often 
turning back her head and smiling at him, like one 
willing to recognize a secret intimacy of connection. 



THE MINISTER IN A MAZE. 271 

" Have I then sold myself," thought the minister, 
" to the fiend whom, if men say true, this yellow- 
starched and velveted old hag has chosen for her prince 
and master ! " 

The wretched minister! He had made a bargain 
very like it ! Tempted by a dream of happiness, he 
had yielded himself with deliberate choice, as he had 
never done before, to what he knew was deadly sin. 
And the infectious poison of that sin had been thus 
rapidly diffused throughout his moral system. It had 
stupefied all blessed impulses, and awakened into vivid 
life the whole brotherhood of bad ones. Scorn, bitter- 
ness, unprovoked malignity, gratuitous desire of ill, 
ridicule of whatever was good and holy, all awoke, to 
tempt, even while they frightened him. And his en- 
counter with old Mistress Hibbins, if it were a real 
incident, did but show his sympathy and fellowship 
with wicked mortals and the world of perverted spirits. 

He had by this time reached his dwelling, on the 
edge of the burial-ground, and, hastening up the stairs, 
took refuge in his study. The minister was glad to 
have reached this shelter, without first betraying him- 
self to the world by any of those strange and wicked 
eccentricities to which he had been continually im- 
pelled while passing through the streets. He entered 
the accustomed room, and looked around him on its 
books, its windows, its fireplace, and the tapestried 
comfort of the walls, with the same perception of 
strangeness that had haunted him throughout his walk 
from the forest-dell into the town, and thitherward. 
Here he had studied and written ; here, gone through 



272 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

fast and vigil, and come forth half alive ; here, striven 
to pray ; here, borne a hundred thousand agonies ! 
There was the Bible, in its rich old Hebrew, with Moses 
and the Prophets speaking to him, and God's voice 
through all ! There, on the table, with the inky pen 
beside it, was an unfinished sermon, with a sentence 
broken in the midst, where his thoughts had ceased to 
gush out upon the page two days before. He knew 
that it was himself, the thin and white-cheeked minis- 
ter, who had done and suffered these things, and written 
thus far into the Election Sermon ! But he seemed to 
stand apart, and eye this former self with scornful, 
pitying, but half-envious curiosity. That self was 
gone ! Another man had returned out of the forest ; 
a wiser one ; with a knowledge of hidden mysteries 
which the simplicity of the former never could have 
reached. A bitter kind of knowledge that ! 

While occupied with these reflections, a knock came 
at the door of the study, and the minister said, 
" Come in ! " — not wholly devoid of an idea that he 
might behold an evil spirit. And so he did ! It was 
old Roger Chillingworth that entered. The minister 
stood, white and speechless, with one hand on the He- 
brew Scriptures, and the other spread upon his breast. 

" Welcome home, reverend Sir ! " said the phy- 
sician. " And how found you that godly man, the 
Apostle Eliot? But methinks, dear Sir, you look 
pale ; as if the travel through the wilderness had been 
too sore for you. Will not my aid be requisite to put 
you in heart and strength to preach your Election Ser- 



mon f 



? » 



THE MINISTER IN A MAZE. 273 

" Nay, I think not so," rejoined the Reverend Mr. 
Dimmesdale. " My journey, and the sight of the holy 
Apostle yonder, and the free air which I have breathed, 
have done me good, after so long confinement in my 
study. I think to need no more of your drugs, my 
kind physician, good though they be, and administered 
by a friendly hand." 

All this time, Roger Chillingworth was looking at the 
minister with the grave and intent regard of a phy- 
sician towards his patient. But, in spite of this outward 
show, the latter was almost convinced of the old man's 
knowledge, or, at least, his confident suspicion, with 
respect to his own interview with Hester Prynne. The 
physician knew, then, that, in the minister's regard, he 
was no longer a trusted friend, but his bitterest ene- 
my. So much being known, it would appear natural 
that a part of it should be expressed. It is singular, 
however, how long a time often passes before words 
embody things ; and with what security two persons, 
who choose to avoid a certain subject, may approach its 
very verge, and retire without disturbing it. Thus, the 
minister felt no apprehension that Roger Chillingworth 
would touch, in express words, upon the real position 
which they sustained towards one another. Yet did the 
physician, in his dark way, creep frightfully near the 
secret. 

" Were it not better," said he, u that you use my 
poor skill to-night ? Verily, dear Sir, we must take 
pains to make you strong and vigorous for this occa- 
sion of the Election discourse. The people look for 
18 



274 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

great things from you ; apprehending that another year 
may come about, and find their pastor gone." 

" Yea, to another world," replied the minister, with 
pious resignation. " Heaven grant it be a better one ; 
for, in good sooth, I hardly think to tarry with my flock 
through the flitting seasons of another year ! But, 
touching your medicine, kind Sir, in my present frame 
of body I need it not." 

" I joy to hear it," answered the physician. " It 
may be that my remedies, so long administered in 
vain, begin now to take due effect. Happy man were 
I, and well deserving of New England's gratitude, 
could I achieve this cure ! " 

" I thank you from my heart, most watchful friend," 
said the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale, with a solemn 
smile. " I thank you, and can but requite your good 
deeds with my prayers." 

" A good man's prayers are golden recompense ! " 
rejoined old Roger Chillingworth, as he took his leave. 
"Yea, they are the current gold coin of the New 
Jerusalem, with the King's own mint- mark on them ! " 

Left alone, the minister summoned a servant of the 
house, and requested food, which, being set before him, 
he ate with ravenous appetite. Then, flinging the 
already written pages of the Election Sermon into the 
fire, he forthwith began another, which he wrote with 
such an impulsive flow of thought and emotion, that 
he fancied himself inspired ; and only wondered that 
Heaven should see fit to transmit the grand and solemn 
music of its oracles through so foul an organ-pipe as 
he. However, leaving that mystery to solve itself, 



THE MINISTER IN A MAZE. 275 

or go unsolved for ever, he drove his task onward, with 
earnest haste and ecstasy. Thus the night fled away, 
as if it were a winged steed, and he careering on it ; 
morning came, and peeped blushing through the cur- 
tains ; and at last sunrise threw a golden beam into 
the study, and laid it right across the minister's bedaz- 
zled eyes. There he was, with the pen still between 
his fingers, and a vast, immeasurable tract of written 
space behind him ! 



276 THE SCARLET LETTER. 



XXI. 

THE NEW ENGLAND HOLIDAY. 

Betimes in the morning of the day on which the 
new Governor was to receive his office at the hands of 
the people, Hester Prynne and little Pearl came into 
the market-place. It was already thronged with the 
craftsmen and other plebeian inhabitants of the town, in 
considerable numbers ; among whom, likewise, were 
many rough figures, whose attire of deer-skins marked 
them as belonging to some of the forest settlements, 
which surrounded the little metropolis of the colony. 

On this public holiday, as on all other occasions, for 
seven years past, Hester was clad in a garment of 
coarse gray cloth. Not more by its hue than by some 
indescribable peculiarity in its fashion, it had the effect 
of making her fade personally out of sight and outline ; 
while, again, the scarlet letter brought her back from 
this twilight indistinctness, and revealed her under the 
moral aspect of its own illumination. Her face, so 
long familiar to the townspeople, showed the marble 
quietude which they were accustomed to behold there. 
It was like a mask ; or rather, like the frozen calmness 
of a dead woman's features ; owing this dreary resem- 
blance to the fact that Hester was actually dead, in re- 
spect to any claim of sympathy, and had departed out 
of the world with which she still seemed to mingle. 



THE NEW ENGLAND HOLIDAY. 277 

It might be, on this one day, that there was an ex- 
pression unseen before, nor, indeed, vivid enough to 
be detected now ; unless some preternatural ly gifted 
observer should have first read the heart, and have 
afterwards sought a corresponding development in the 
countenance and mien. Such a spiritual seer might 
have conceived, that, after sustaining the gaze of the 
multitude through seven miserable years as a necessity, 
a penance, and something which it was a stern religion 
to endure, she now, for one last time more, encoun- 
tered it freely and voluntarily, in order to convert what 
had so long been agony into a kind of triumph. 
" Look your last on the scarlet letter and its wearer ! " 
— the people's victim and life-long bond-slave, as they 
fancied her, might say to them. " Yet a little while, 
and she will be beyond your reach ! A few hours 
longer, and the deep, mysterious ocean will quench 
and hide for ever the symbol which ye have caused to 
burn upon her bosom ! " Nor were it an inconsistency 
too improbable to be assigned to human nature, should 
we suppose a feeling of regret in Hester's mind, at the 
moment when she was about to win her freedom from 
the pain which had been thus deeply incorporated with 
her being. Might there not be an irresistible desire to 
quaff a last, long, breathless draught of the cup of 
wormwood and aloes, with which nearly all her years 
of womanhood had been perpetually flavored ? The 
wine of life, henceforth to be presented to her lips, 
must be indeed rich, delicious, and exhilarating, in its 
chased and golden beaker ; or else leave an inevitable 
and weary languor, after the lees of bitterness where- 



278 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

with she had been drugged, as with a cordial of in- 
tensest potency. 

Pearl was decked out with airy gayety. It would 
have been impossible to guess that this bright and sun- 
ny apparition owed its existence to the shape of gloomy 
gray ; or that a fancy, at once so gorgeous and so deli- 
cate as must have been requisite to contrive the child's 
apparel, was the same that had achieved a task perhaps 
more difficult, in imparting so distinct a peculiarity to 
Hester's simple robe. The dress, so proper was it to 
little Pearl, seemed an effluence, or inevitable develop- 
ment and outward manifestation of her character, no 
more to be separated from her than the many-hued 
brilliancy from a butterfly's wing, or the painted glory 
from the leaf of a bright flower. As with these, so 
with the child ; her garb was all of one idea with her 
nature. On this eventful day, moreover, there was a 
certain singular inquietude and excitement in her mood, 
resembling nothing so much as the shimmer of a dia- 
mond, that sparkles and flashes with the varied throb- 
bings of the breast on which it is displayed. Children 
have always a sympathy in the agitations of those con- 
nected with them ; always, especially, a sense of any 
trouble or impending revolution, of whatever kind, in 
domestic circumstances ; and therefore Pearl, who was 
the gem on her mother's unquiet bosom, betrayed, by 
the very dance of her spirits, the emotions which none 
could detect in the marble passiveness of Hester's 
brow. 

This effervescence made her flit with a bird-like 
movement, rather than walk by her mother's side. She 



THE NEW ENGLAND HOLIDAY. 279 

broke continually into shouts of a wild, inarticulate, and 
sometimes piercing music. When they reached the 
market-place, she became still more restless, on per- 
ceiving the stir and bustle that enlivened the spot ; for 
it was usually more like the broad and lonesome green 
before a village meeting-house, than the centre of a 
town's business. 

" Why, what is this, mother ?" cried she. " Where- 
fore have all the people left their work to-day ? Is it a 
play-day for the whole world. See, there is the black- 
smith ! He has washed his sooty face, and put on his 
Sabbath-day clothes, and looks, as if he would gladly 
be merry, if any kind body would only teach him how ! 
And there is Master Brackett, the old jailer, nodding 
and smiling at me. Why does he do so, mother ?" 

"He remembers thee a little babe, my child," an- 
swered Hester. 

. " He should not nod and smile at me, for all that, — 
the black, grim, ugly-eyed old man ! " said Pearl. 
" He may nod at thee if he will ; for thou art clad in 
gray, and wearest the scarlet letter. But, see, mother, 
how many faces of strange people, and Indians among 
them, and sailors ! What have they all come to do 
here in the market-place ? " 

u They wait to see the procession pass," said Hester. 
" For the Governor and the magistrates are to go by, 
and the ministers, and all the great people and good 
people, with the music, and the soldiers marching be- 
fore them." 

"And will the minister be there?" asked Pearl. 
" And will he hold out both his hands to me, as when 
thou ledst me to him from the brook-side ? " 



280 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

" He will be there, child," answered her mother. 
" But he will not greet thee to-day ; nor must thou 
greet him." 

" What a strange, sad man is he ! " said the child, as 
if speaking partly to herself. " In the dark night-time, 
he calls us to him, and holds thy hand and mine, as 
when we stood with him on the scaffold yonder ! And 
in the deep forest, where only the old trees can hear, 
and the strip of sky see it, he talks with thee, sitting on 
a heap of moss ! And he kisses my forehead, too, so 
that the little brook would hardly wash it off! But 
here in the sunny day, and among all the people, he 
knows us not ; nor must we know him ! A strange, 
sad man is he, with his hand always over his heart ! " 

" Be quiet, Pearl ! Thou understandest not these 
things," said her mother. " Think not now of the 
minister, but look about thee, and see how cheery is 
every body's face to-day. The children have come 
from their schools, and the grown people from their 
workshops and their fields, on purpose to be happy. 
For, to-day, a new man is beginning to rule over them ; 
and so — as has been the custom of mankind ever 
since a nation was first gathered — they make merry 
and rejoice ; as if a good and golden year were at 
length to pass over the poor old world ! " 

It was as Hester said, in regard to the unwonted jol- 
lity that brightened the faces of the people. Into this 
festal season of the year — as it already was, and 
continued to be during the greater part of two cen- 
turies — the Puritans compressed whatever mirth and 
public joy they deemed allowable to human infirm- 



THE NEW ENGLAND HOLIDAY. 281 

ity ; thereby so far dispelling the customary cloud, that, 
for the space of a single holiday, they appeared 
scarcely more grave than most other communities at a 
period of general affliction. 

But we perhaps exaggerate the gray or sable tinge, 
which undoubtedly characterized the mood and man- 
ners of the age. The persons now in the market- 
place of Boston had not been born to an inheritance 
of Puritanic gloom. They were native Englishmen, 
whose fathers had lived in the sunny richness of the 
Elizabethan epoch ; a time when the life of England, 
viewed as one great mass, would appear to have been 
as stately, magnificent, and joyous, as the world has 
ever witnessed. Had they followed their hereditary 
taste, the New England settlers would have illustrated 
all events of public importance by bonfires, banquets, 
pageantries, and processions. Nor would it have been 
impracticable, in the observance of majestic ceremonies, 
to combine mirthful recreation with solemnity, and 
give, as it were, a grotesque and brilliant embroidery 
to the great robe of state, which a nation, at such fes- 
tivals, puts on. There was some shadow of an attempt 
of this kind in the mode of celebrating the day on 
which the political year of the colony commenced. 
The dim reflection of a remembered splendor, a color- 
less and manifold diluted repetition of what they had 
beheld in proud old London, — we will not say at a 
royal coronation, but at a Lord Mayor's show, — might 
be traced in the customs which our forefathers institut- 
ed, with reference to the annual installation of magis- 
trates. The fathers and founders of the commonwealth 



282 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

— the statesman, the priest, and the soldier — deemed 
it a duty then to assume the outward state and majes- 
ty, which, in accordance with antique style, was looked 
upon as the proper garb of public or social eminence. 
All came forth, to move in procession before the peo- 
ple's eye, and thus impart a needed dignity to the sim- 
ple framework of a government so newly constructed. 
Then, too, the people were countenanced, if not 
encouraged, in relaxing the severe and close applica- 
tion to their various modes of rugged industry, which, 
at all other times, seemed of the same piece and mate- 
rial with their religion. Here, it is true, were none 
of the appliances which popular merriment would so 
readily have found in the England of Elizabeth's time, 
or that of James ; — no rude shows of a theatrical kind ; 
no minstrel with his harp and legendary ballad, nor 
gleeman, with an ape dancing to his music ; no juggler, 
with his tricks of mimic witchcraft ; no Merry Andrew, 
to stir up the multitude with jests, perhaps hundreds of 
years old, but still effective, by their appeals to the 
very broadest sources of mirthful sympathy. All such 
professors of the several branches of jocularity would 
have been sternly repressed, not only by the rigid dis- 
cipline of law, but by the general sentiment which 
gives law its vitality. Not the less, however, the great, 
honest face of the people smiled, grimly, perhaps, but 
widely too. Nor were sports wanting, such as the 
colonists had witnessed, and shared in, long ago, at the 
country fairs and on the village-greens of England; 
and which it was thought well to keep alive on this 
new soil, for the sake of the courage and manliness 



THE NEW ENGLAND HOLIDAY. 283 

that were essential in them. Wrestling-matches, in the 
differing fashions of Cornwall and Devonshire, were 
seen here and there about the market-place ; in one 
corner, there was a friendly bout at quarterstaff; and 
— what attracted most interest of all — on the plat- 
form of the pillory, already so noted in our pages, two 
masters of defence were commencing an exhibition 
with the buckler and broadsword. But, much to the 
disappointment of the crowd, this latter business was 
broken off by the interposition of the town beadle, who 
had no idea of permitting the majesty of the law to be 
violated by such an abuse of one of its consecrated 
places. 

It may not be too much to affirm, on the whole, (the 
people being then in the first stages of joyless deport- 
ment, and the offspring of sires who had known how 
to be merry, in their day,) that they would compare 
favorably, in point of holiday keeping, with their de- 
scendants, even at so long an interval as ourselves. 
Their immediate posterity, the generation next to the 
early emigrants, wore the blackest shade of Puritanism, 
and so darkened the national visage with it, that all the 
subsequent years have not sufficed to clear it up. We 
have yet to learn again the forgotten art of gayety. 

The picture of human life in the market-place, 
though its general tint was the sad gray, brown, or 
black of the English emigrants, was yet enlivened by 
some diversity of hue. A party of Indians — in their 
savage finery of curiously embroidered deer-skin robes, 
wampum-belts, red and yellow ochre, and feathers, and 
armed with the bow and arrow and stone-headed spear 



284 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

— stood apart, with countenances of inflexible gravity, 
beyond what even the Puritan aspect could attain. 
Nor, wild as were these painted barbarians, were they 
the wildest feature of the scene. This distinction could 
more justly be claimed by some mariners, — a part of 
the crew of the vessel from the Spanish Main, — who 
had come ashore to see the humors of Election Day. 
They were rough-looking desperadoes, with sun-black- 
ened faces, and an immensity of beard ; their wide, 
short trousers were confined about the waist by belts, 
often clasped with a rough plate of gold, and sustaining 
always a long knife, and, in some instances, a sword. 
From beneath their broad-brimmed hats of palm-leaf, 
gleamed eyes which, even in good nature and merri- 
ment, had a kind of animal ferocity. They trans- 
gressed, without fear or scruple, the rules of behaviou 
that were binding on all others ; smoking tobacco un 
der the beadle's very nose, although each whiff wouL 
have cost a townsman a shilling ; and quaffing, at their 
pleasure, draughts of wine or aqua-vitse from pocket- 
flasks, which they freely tendered to the gaping crowd 
around them. It remarkably characterized the incom- 
plete morality of the age, rigid as we call it, that a 
license was allowed the seafaring class, not merely 
for their freaks on shore, but for far more desperate 
deeds on their proper element. The sailor of that day 
would go near to be arraigned as a pirate in our own. 
There could be little doubt, for instance, that this very 
ship's crew, though no unfavorable specimens of the 
nautical brotherhood, had been guilty, as we should 
phrase it, of depredations on the Spanish commerce 



; 



THE NEW ENGLAND HOLIDAY. 285 

such as would have perilled all their necks in a modern 
court of justice. 

But the sea, in those old times, heaved, swelled, and 
foamed very much at its own will, or subject only to 
the tempestuous wind, with hardly any attempts at reg- 
ulation by human law. The buccaneer on the wave 
might relinquish his calling, and become at once, if he 
chose, a man of probity and piety on land ; nor, even 
in the full career of his reckless life, was he regarded 
as a personage with whom it was disreputable to traffic, 
or casually associate. Thus, the Puritan elders, in 
their black cloaks, starched bands, and steeple-crowned 
hats, smiled not unbenignantly at the clamor and rude 
deportment of these jolly seafaring men ; and it ex- 
cited neither surprise nor animadversion when so repu- 
table a citizen as old Roger Chillingworth, the phy- 
sician, was seen to enter the market-place, in close and 
familiar talk with the commander of the questionable 
vessel. 

The latter was by far the most showy and gallant 
figure, so far as apparel went, anywhere to be seen 
among the multitude. He wore a profusion of ribbons 
on his garment, and gold lace on his hat, which was 
also encircled by a gold chain, and surmounted with a 
feather. There was a sword at his side, and a sword- 
cut on his forehead, which, by the arrangement of his 
hair, he seemed anxious rather to display than hide. 
A landsman could hardly have worn this garb and 
shown this face, and worn and shown them both with 
such a galliard air, without undergoing stern question 
before a magistrate, and probably incurring fine or im- 



286 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

prisonment, or perhaps an exhibition in the stocks. 
As regarded the shipmaster, however, all was looked 
upon as pertaining to the character, as to a fish his glis- 
tening scales. 

After parting from the physician, the commander of 
the Bristol ship strolled idly through the market-place ; 
until, happening to approach the spot where Hester 
Prynne was standing, he appeared to recognize, and did 
not hesitate to address her. As was usually the case 
wherever Hester stood, a small, vacant area — a sort 
of magic circle — had formed itself about her, into 
which, though the people were elbowing one another 
at a little distance, none ventured, or felt disposed to 
intrude. It was a forcible type of the moral solitude 
in which the scarlet letter enveloped its fated wearer ; 
partly by her own reserve, and partly by the instinc- 
tive, though no longer so unkindly, withdrawal of her 
fellow-creatures. Now, if never before, it answered a 
good purpose, by enabling Hester and the seaman to 
speak together without risk of being overheard ; and 
so changed was Hester Prynne's repute before the 
public, that the matron in town most eminent for rigid 
morality could not have held such intercourse with less 
result of scandal than herself. 

" So, mistress," said the mariner, " I must bid the 
steward make ready one more berth than you bargained 
for ! No fear of scurvy or ship-fever, this voyage ! 
What with the ship's surgeon and this other doctor, our 
only danger will be from drug or pill ; more by token, 
as there is a lot of apothecary's stuff aboard, which I 
traded for with a Spanish vessel." 



THE NEW ENGLAND HOLIDAY. 287 

" What mean you ? " inquired Hester, startled more 
than she permitted to appear. " Have you another 
passenger ? " 

" Why, know you not," cried the shipmaster, " that 
this physician here — Chillingworth, he calls himself — 
is minded to try my cabin-fare with you ? Ay, ay, 
you must have known it ; for he tells me he is of your 
party, and a close friend to the gentleman you spoke 
of, — he that is in peril from these sour old Puritan 
rulers ! " 

" They know each other well, indeed," replied Hes- 
ter, with a mien of calmness, though in the utmost 
consternation. " They have long dwelt together." 

Nothing further passed between the mariner and 
Hester Prynne. But, at that instant, she beheld old 
Roger Chillingworth himself, standing in the remotest 
corner of the market-place, and smiling on her; a 
Smile which — across the wide and bustling square, 
and through all the talk and laughter, and various 
thoughts, moods, and interests of the crowd — con- 
veyed secret and fearful meaning. 



288 THE SCARLET LETTER. 



XXII. 

THE PROCESSION. 

Before Hester Prynne could call together hei 
thoughts, and consider what was practicable to be 
done in this new and startling aspect of affairs, the 
sound of military music was heard approaching along 
a contiguous street. It denoted the advance of the 
procession of magistrates and citizens, on its way to- 
wards the meeting-house ; where, in compliance with a 
custom thus early established, and ever since observed, 
the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale was to deliver an Elec- 
tion Sermon. 

Soon the head of the procession showed itself, with 
a slow and stately march, turning a corner, and making 
its way across the market-place. First came the 
music. It comprised a variety of instruments, perhaps 
imperfectly adapted to one another, and played with no 
great skill, but yet attaining the great object for which 
the harmony of drum and clarion addresses itself to 
the multitude, — that of imparting a higher and more 
heroic air to the scene of life that passes before the 
eye. Little Pearl at first clapped her hands, but then 
lost, for an instant, the restless agitation that had kept 
her in a continual effervescence throughout the morn- 
ing ; she gazed silently, and seemed to be borne up- 



THE PROCESSION. 289 

ward, like a floating sea-bird, on the long heaves and 
swells of sound. But she was brought back to her 
former mood by the shimmer of the sunshine on the 
weapons and bright armour of the military company, 
which followed after the music, and formed the honor- 
ary escort of the procession. This body of soldiery — 
which still sustains a corporate existence, and marches 
down from past ages with an ancient and honorable 
fame — was composed of no mercenary materials. Its 
ranks were filled with gentlemen, who felt the stirrings 
of martial impulse, and sought to establish a kind of 
College of Arms, where, as in an association of Knights 
Templars, they might learn the science, and, so far as 
peaceful exercise would teach them, the practices of 
war. The high estimation then placed upon the mili- 
tary character might be seen in the lofty port of each 
individual member of the company. Some of them, 
indeed, by their services in the Low Countries and on 
other fields of European warfare, had fairly won their 
title to assume the name and pomp of soldiership. 
The entire array, moreover, x clad in burnished steel, 
and with plumage nodding over their bright morions, 
had a brilliancy of effect which no modern display can 
aspire to equal. 

And yet the men of civil eminence, who came im- 
mediately behind the military escort, were better worth 
a thoughtful observer's eye. Even in outward de- 
meanour they showed a stamp of majesty that made the 
warrior's haughty stride look vulgar, if not absurd. It 
was an age when what we call talent had far less con- 
sideration than now, but the massive materials which 
19 



290 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

produce stability and dignity of character a great deal 
more. The people possessed, by hereditary right, the 
quality of reverence ; which, in their descendants, if it 
survive at all, exists in smaller proportion, and with a 
vastly diminished force in the selection and estimate of 
public men. The change may be for good or ill, and 
is partly, perhaps, for both. In that old day, the Eng- 
lish settler on these rude shores, — having left king, 
nobles, and all degrees of awful rank behind, while 
still the faculty and necessity of reverence were strong 
in him, — bestowed it on the white hair and venerable 
brow of age ; on long-tried integrity ; on solid wisdom 
and sad-colored experience; on endowments of that 
grave and weighty order, which gives the idea of per- 
manence, and comes under the general definition of 
respectability. These primitive statesmen, therefore, 
— Bradstreet, Endicott, Dudley, Bellingham, and their 
compeers, — who were elevated to power by the early 
choice of the people, seem to have been not often bril- 
liant, but distinguished by a ponderous sobriety, rather 
than activity of intellect. They had fortitude and self- 
reliance, and, in time of difficulty or peril, stood up for 
the welfare of the state like a line of cliffs against a 
tempestuous tide. The traits of character here indi- 
cated were well represented in the square cast of 
countenance and large physical development of the 
new colonial magistrates. So far as a demeanour of 
natural authority was concerned, the mother country 
need not have been ashamed to see these foremost 
men of an actual democracy adopted into the House 
of Peers, or made the Privy Council of the sovereign. 



THE PROCESSION. 291 

Next in order to the magistrates came the young 
and eminently distinguished divine, from whose lips the 
religious discourse of the anniversary was expected. 
His was the profession, at that era, in which intellectual 
ability displayed itself far more than in political life ; 
for — leaving a higher motive out of the question — it 
offered inducements powerful enough, in the almost 
worshipping respect of the community, to win the most 
aspiring ambition into its service. Even political power 
— as in the case of Increase Mather — was within the 
grasp of a successful priest. 

It was the observation of those who beheld him now, 
that never, since Mr. Dimmesdale first set his foot on 
the New England shore, had he exhibited such energy 
as was seen in the gait and air with which he kept his 
pace in the procession. There was no feebleness of 
step, as at other times ; his frame was not bent ; nor 
did his hand rest ominously upon his heart. Yet, if the 
clergyman were rightly viewed, his strength seemed 
not of the body. It might be spiritual, and imparted 
to him by angelic ministrations. It might be the ex- 
hilaration of that potent cordial, which is distilled only 
in the furnace-glow of earnest and long-continued 
thought. Or, perchance, his sensitive temperament 
was invigorated by the loud and piercing music, that 
swelled heavenward, and uplifted him on its ascending 
wave. Nevertheless, so abstracted was his look, it 
might be questioned whether Mr. Dimmesdale even 
heard the music. There was his body, moving on- 
ward, and with an unaccustomed force. But where 
was his mind? Far and deep in its own region, busy- 



292 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

ing itself, with preternatural activity, to marshal a pro- 
cession of stately thoughts that were soon to issue 
thence ; and so he saw nothing, heard nothing, knew 
nothing, of what was around him ; but the spiritual ele- 
ment took up the feeble frame, and carried it along, 
unconscious of the burden, and converting it to spirit 
like itself. Men of uncommon intellect, who have 
grown morbid, possess this occasional power of mighty 
effort, into which they throw the life of many days, 
and then are lifeless for as many more. 

Hester Prynne, gazing steadfastly at the clergyman, 
felt a dreary influence come over her, but wherefore or 
whence she knew not ; unless that he seemed so remote 
from her own sphere, and utterly beyond her reach. 
One glance of recognition, she had imagined, must needs 
pass between them. She thought of the dim forest, 
with its little dell of solitude, and love, and anguish, and 
the mossy tree-trunk, where, sitting hand in hand, they 
had mingled their sad and passionate talk with the 
melancholy murmur of the brook. How deeply had 
they known each other then ! And was this the man ? 
She hardly knew him now ! He, moving proudly past, 
enveloped, as it were, in the rich music, with the pro- 
cession of majestic and venerable fathers ; he, so unat- 
tainable in his worldly position, and still more so in that 
far vista of his unsympathizing thoughts, through which 
she now beheld him ! Her spirit sank with the idea 
that all must have been a delusion, and that, vividly as 
she had dreamed it, there could be no real bond be- 
twixt the clergyman and herself. And thus much of 
woman was there in Hester, that she could scarcely 



THE PROCESSION. 293 

forgive him, — least of all now, when the heavy foot- 
step of their approaching Fate might be heard, nearer, 
nearer, nearer! — for being able so completely to with- 
draw himself from their mutual world ; while she 
groped darkly, and stretched forth her cold hands, and 
found him not. 

Pearl either saw and responded to her mother's feel- 
ings, or herself felt the remoteness and intangibility 
that had fallen around the minister. While the pro- 
cession passed, the child was uneasy, fluttering up and 
down, like a bird on the point of taking flight. When 
the whole had gone by, she looked up into Hester's 
face. 

" Mother," said she, " was that the same minister 
that kissed me by the brook ? " 

" Hold thy peace, dear little Pearl ! " whispered her 
mother. " We must not always talk in the market- 
place of what happens to us in the forest." 

" I could not be sure that it was he ; so strange he 
looked," continued the child. " Else I would have run 
to him, and bid him kiss me now, before all the people ; 
even as he did yonder among the dark old trees. What 
would the minister have said, mother ? Would he 
have clapped his hand over his heart, and scowled on 
me, and bid me begone ? " 

" What should he say, Pearl," answered Hester, 
" save that it was no time to kiss, and that kisses are 
not to be given in the market-place ? Well for thee, 
foolish child, that thou didst not speak to him ! " 

Another shade of the same sentiment, in reference 
to Mr. Dimmesdale, was expressed by a person whose 



294 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

eccentricities — or insanity, as we should term it — led 
her to do what few of the townspeople would have 
ventured on ; to begin a conversation with the wearer 
of the scarlet letter, in public. It was Mistress Hib- 
bins, who, arrayed in great magnificence, with a 
triple ruff, a broidered stomacher, a gown of rich vel- 
vet, and a gold-headed cane, had come forth to see 
the procession. As this ancient lady had the renown 
(which subsequently cost her no less a price than her 
life) of being a principal actor in all the works of nec- 
romancy that were continually going forward, the 
crowd gave way before her, and seemed to fear the 
touch of her garment, as if it carried the plague among 
its gorgeous folds. Seen in conjunction with Hester 
Prynne, — kindly as so many now felt towards the 
latter, — the dread inspired by Mistress Hibbins was 
doubled, and caused a general movement from that 
part of the market-place in which the two women stood. 
" Now, what mortal imagination could conceive it ! " 
whispered the old lady confidentially to Hester. " Yon- 
der divine man ! That saint on earth, as the people up- 
hold him to be, and as — I must needs say — he really 
looks ! Who, now, that saw him pass in the proces- 
sion, would think how little while it is since he went 
forth out of his study, — chewing a Hebrew text of 
Scripture in his mouth, I warrant, — to take an airing 
in the forest ! Aha ! we know what that means, Hes- 
ter Prynne ! But, truly, forsooth, I find it hard to be- 
lieve him the same man. Many a church-member saw 
I, walking behind the music, that has danced in the 
same measure with me, when Somebody was fiddler, 



THE PROCESSION. 295 

and, it might be, an Indian powwow or a Lapland wizard 
changing hands with us ! That is but a trifle, when a 
woman knows the world. But this minister ! Couldst 
thou surely tell, Hester, whether he was the same man 
that encountered thee on the forest-path ! " 

" Madam, I know not of what you speak," answered 
Hester Prynne, feeling Mistress Hibbins to be of infirm 
mind ; yet strangely startled and awe-stricken by the 
confidence with which she affirmed a personal connec- 
tion between so many persons (herself among them) 
and the Evil One. " It is not for me to talk lightly of 
a learned and pious minister of the Word, like the 
Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale ! " 

" Fie, woman, fie ! " cried the old lady, shaking her 
finger at Hester. " Dost thou think I have been to the 
forest so many times, and have yet no skill to judge 
who else has been there ? Yea ; though no leaf of the 
wild garlands, which they wore while they danced, be 
left in their hair ! I know thee, Hester ; for I behold 
the token. We may all see it in the sunshine ; and it 
glows like a red flame in the dark. Thou wearest it 
openly ; so there need be no question about that. But 
this minister ! Let me tell thee in thine ear ! When 
the Black Man sees one of his own servants, signed 
and sealed, so shy of owning to the bond as is the 
Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale, he hath a way of ordering 
matters so that the mark shall be disclosed in open day- 
light to the eyes of all the world ! What is it that the 
minister seeks to hide, with his hand always over his 
heart ? Ha, Hester Prynne ! " 

" What is it, good Mistress Hibbins ? " eagerly 
asked little Pearl. " Hast thou seen it ? M 



296 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

" No matter, darling ! " responded Mistress Hibbins, 
making Pearl a profound reverence. " Thou thyself 
wilt see it, one time or another. They say, child, thou 
art of the lineage of the Prince of the Air ! Wilt 
thou ride with me, some fine night, to see thy father ? 
Then thou shalt know wherefore the minister keeps his 
hand over his heart ! " 

Laughing so shrilly that all the market-place could 
hear her, the weird old gentlewoman took her depart- 
ure. 

By this time the preliminary prayer had been offered 
in the meeting-house, and the accents of the Reverend 
Mr. Dimmesdale were heard commencing his dis- 
course. An irresistible feeling kept Hester near the 
spot. As the sacred edifice was too much thronged to 
admit another auditor, she took up her position close 
beside the scaffold of the pillory. It was in sufficient 
proximity to bring the whole sermon to her ears, in the 
shape of an indistinct, but varied, murmur and flow of 
the minister's very peculiar voice. 

This vocal organ was in itself a rich endowment ; 
insomuch that a listener, comprehending nothing of the 
language in which the preacher spoke, might still have 
been swayed to and fro by the mere tone and cadence. 
Like all other music, it breathed passion and pathos, 
and emotions high or tender, in a tongue native to the 
human heart, wherever educated. Muffled as the 
sound was by its passage through the church-walls, 
Hester Prynne listened with such intentness, and sym- 
pathized so intimately, that the sermon had throughout 
a meaning for her, entirely apart from its indistinguish- 



THE PROCESSION. 297 

able words. These, perhaps, if more distinctly heard, 
might have been only a grosser medium, and have 
clogged the spiritual sense. Now she caught the low 
undertone, as of the wind sinking down to repose 
itself; then ascended with it, as it rose through progres- 
sive gradations of sweetness and power, until its volume 
seemed to envelop her with an atmosphere of awe and 
solemn grandeur. And yet, majestic as the voice 
sometimes became, there was for ever in it an essential 
character of plaintiveness. A loud or low expression of 
anguish, — the whisper, or the shriek, as it might be con- 
ceived, of suffering humanity, that touched a sensibility 
in every bosom ! At times this deep strain of pathos 
was all that could be heard, and scarcely heard, sighing 
amid a desolate silence. But even when the minis- 
ter's* voice grew high and commanding, — when it 
gushed irrepressibly upward, — when it assumed its 
utmost breadth and power, so overfilling the church as 
to burst its way through the solid walls, and diffuse 
itself in the open air, — still, if the auditor listened in- 
tently, and for the purpose, he could detect the same 
cry of pain. What was it? The complaint of a 
human heart, sorrow-laden, perchance guilty, telling 
its secret, whether of guilt or sorrow, to the great heart 
of mankind ; beseeching its sympathy or forgiveness, 
— at every moment, — in each accent, — and never in 
vain ! It was this profound and continual undertone 
that gave the clergyman his most appropriate power. 

During all this time Hester stood, statue-like, at the 
foot of the scaffold. If the minister's voice had not 
kept her there, there would nevertheless have been an 



298 



THE SCARLET LETTER. 



inevitable magnetism in that spot, whence she dated the 
first hour of her life of ignominy. There was a sense 
within her, — too ill-defined to be made a thought, but 
weighing heavily on her mind, — that her whole orb of 
life, both before and after, was connected with this 
spot, as with the one point that gave it unity. 

Little Pearl, meanwhile, had quitted her mother's 
side, and was playing at her own will about the market- 
place. She made the sombre crowd cheerful by her 
erratic and glistening ray ; even as a bird of bright 
plumage illuminates a whole tree of dusky foliage by 
darting to and fro, half seen and half concealed, amid 
the twilight of the clustering leaves. She had an un- 
dulating, but, oftentimes, a sharp and irregular move- 
ment. It indicated the restless vivacity of her spirit, 
which to-day was doubly indefatigable in its tiptoe 
dance, because it was played upon and vibrated with 
her mother's disquietude. Whenever Pearl saw any 
thing to excite her ever active and wandering curiosity, 
she flew thitherward, and, as we might say, seized 
upon that man or thing as her own property, so far as 
she desired it ; but without yielding the minutest degree 
of control over her motions in requital. The Puritans 
looked on, and, if they smiled, were none the less in- 
clined to pronounce the child a demon offspring, from 
the indescribable charm of beauty and eccentricity that 
shone through her little figure, and sparkled with its 
activity. She ran and looked the wild Indian in the 
face ; and he grew conscious of a nature wilder than 
his own. Thence, with native audacity, but still with a 
reserve as characteristic, she flew into the midst of a 



THE PROCESSION. 299 

group of mariners, the swarthy-cheeked wild men of 
the ocean, as the Indians were of the land ; and they 
gazed wonderingly and admiringly at Pearl, as if a 
flake of the sea-foam had taken the shape of a little 
maid, and were gifted with a soul of the sea-fire, that 
flashes beneath the prow in the night-time. 

One of these seafaring men — the shipmaster, in- 
deed, who had spoken to Hester Prynne — was so 
smitten with Pearl's aspect, that he attempted to lay 
hands upon her, with purpose to snatch a kiss. Find- 
ing it as impossible to touch her as to catch a hum- 
ming-bird in the air, he took from his hat the gold 
chain that was twisted about it, and threw it to the 
child. Pearl immediately twined it around her neck 
and waist, with such happy skill, that, once seen there, 
it became a part of her, and it was difficult to imagine 
her without it. 

" Thy mother is yonder woman with the scarlet 
letter," said the seaman. " Wilt thou carry her a 
message from me ? " 

" If the message pleases me I will," answered 
Pearl. 

" Then tell her," rejoined he, " that I spake again 
with the black-a-visaged, hump-shouldered old doctor, 
and he engages to bring his friend, the gentleman she 
wots of, aboard with him. So let thy mother take no 
thought, save for herself and thee. Wilt thou tell her 
this, thou witch-baby ? " 

" Mistress Hibbins says my father is the Prince of 
the Air!" cried Pearl, with her naughty smile. "If 
thou callest me that ill name, I shall tell him of thee ; 
and he will chase thy ship with a tempest ! " 



300 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

Pursuing a zigzag course across the market-place, 
the child returned to her mother, and communicated 
what the mariner had said. Hester's strong, calm, 
steadfastly enduring spirit almost sank, at last, on be- 
holding this dark and grim countenance of an inevi- 
table doom, which — at the moment when a passage 
seemed to open for the minister and herself out of 
their labyrinth of misery — showed itself, with an un- 
relenting smile, right in the midst of their path. 

With her mind harrassed by the terrible perplexity 
in which the shipmaster's intelligence involved her, she 
was also subjected to another trial. There were many 
people present, from the country roundabout, who had 
often heard of the scarlet letter, and to whom it had 
been made terrific by a hundred false or exaggerated 
rumors, but who had never beheld it with their own 
bodily eyes. These, after exhausting other modes 
of amusement, now thronged about Hester Prynne 
with rude and boorish intrusiveness. Unscrupulous 
as it was, however, it could not bring them nearer 
than a circuit of several yards. At that distance they 
accordingly stood, fixed there by the centrifugal force 
of the repugnance which the mystic symbol inspired. 
The whole gang of sailors, likewise, observing the 
press of spectators, and learning the purport of the 
scarlet letter, came and thrust their sunburnt and des- 
perado-looking faces into the ring. Even the Indians 
were affected by a sort of cold shadow of the white 
man's curiosity, and, gliding through the crowd, fas- 
tened their snake-like black eyes on Hester's bosom ; 
conceiving, perhaps, that the wearer of this brilliantly 



THE PROCESSION. 301 

embroidered badge must needs be a personage of high 
dignity among her people. Lastly, the inhabitants 
of the town (their own interest in this worn-out sub- 
ject languidly reviving itself, by sympathy with what 
they saw others feel) lounged idly to the same quar- 
ter, and tormented Hester Prynne, perhaps more than 
all the rest, with their cool, well-acquainted gaze at her 
familiar shame. Hester saw and recognized the self- 
same faces of that group of matrons, who had awaited 
her forthcoming from the prison-door, seven years 
ago ; all save one, the youngest and only compas- 
sionate among them, whose burial-robe she had since 
made. At the final hour, when she was so soon to 
fling aside the burning letter, it had strangely become 
the centre of more remark and excitement, and was 
thus made to sear her breast more painfully than at 
any time since the first day she put it on. 

While Hester stood in that magic circle of ignominy, 
where the cunning cruelty of her sentence seemed to 
have fixed her for ever, the admirable preacher was 
looking down from the sacred pulpit upon an audience, 
whose very inmost spirits had yielded to his control. 
The sainted minister in the church ! The woman of 
the scarlet letter in the market-place ! What imagi- 
nation would have been irreverent enough to surmise 
that the same scorching stigma was on them both ? 



302 THE SCARLET LETTER. 



XXIII. 

THE REVELATION OF THE SCARLET LETTER. 

The eloquent voice, on which the souls of the listen- 
ing audience had been borne aloft, as on the swelling 
waves of the sea, at length came to a pause. There 
was a momentary silence, profound as what should 
follow the utterance of oracles. Then ensued a mur- 
mur and half-hushed tumult; as if the auditors, re- 
leased from the high spell that had transported them 
into the region of another's mind, were returning into 
themselves, with all their awe and wonder still heavy 
on them. In a moment more, the crowd began to 
gush forth from the doors of the church. Now that 
there was an end, they needed other breath, more fit 
to support the gross and earthly life into which they 
relapsed, than that atmosphere which the preacher had 
converted into words of flame, and had burdened with 
the rich fragrance of his thought. 

In the open air their rapture broke into speech. 
The street and the market-place absolutely babbled, 
from side to side, with applauses of the minister. His 
hearers could not rest until they had told one another 
of what each knew better than he could tell or hear. 
According to their united testimony, never had man 
spoken in so wise, so high, and so holy a spirit, as he 



THE REVELATION OF THE SCARLET LETTER. 303 

that spake this day ; nor had inspiration ever breathed 
through mortal lips more evidently than it did through 
his. Its influence could be seen, as it were, descend- 
ing upon him, and possessing him, and continually 
lifting him out of the written discourse that lay before 
him, and filling him with ideas that must have been 
as marvellous to himself as to his audience. His sub- 
ject, it appeared, had been the relation between the 
Deity and the communities of mankind, with a special 
reference to the New England which they were here 
planting in the wilderness. And, as he drew towards 
the close, a spirit as of prophecy had come upon him, 
constraining him to its purpose as mightily as the old 
prophets of Israel were constrained ; only with this 
difference, that, whereas the Jewish seers had de- 
nounced judgments and ruin on their country, it was 
his mission to foretell a high and glorious destiny for 
the newly gathered people of the Lord. But, through- 
out it all, and through the whole discourse, there had 
been a certain deep, sad undertone of pathos, which 
could not be interpreted otherwise than as the natural 
regret of one soon to pass away. Yes ; their minister 
whom they so loved — and who so loved them all, 
that he could not depart heavenward without a sigh — 
had the foreboding of untimely death upon him, and 
would soon leave them in their tears ! This idea of his 
transitory stay on earth gave the last emphasis to the 
effect which the preacher had produced ; it was as if 
an angel, in his passage to the skies, had shaken his 
bright wings over the people for an instant, — at once 
a shadow and a splendor, — and had shed down a 
shower of golden truths upon them. 



304 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

Thus, there had come to the Reverend Mr. Dimmes- 
dale — as to most men, in their various spheres, though 
seldom recognized until they see it far behind them — 
an epoch of life more brilliant and full of triumph than 
any previous one, or than any which could hereafter 
be. He stood, at this moment, on the very proudest 
eminence of superiority, to which the gifts of intellect, 
rich lore, prevailing eloquence, and a reputation of 
whitest sanctity, could exalt a clergyman in New Eng- 
land's earliest days, when the professional character 
was of itself a lofty pedestal. Such was the position 
which the minister occupied, as he bowed his head 
forward on the cushions of the pulpit, at the close of 
his Election Sermon. Meanwhile, Hester Prynne was 
standing beside the scaffold of the pillory, with the 
scarlet letter still burning on her breast ! 

Now was heard again the clangor of the music, and 
the measured tramp of the military escort, issuing from 
the church-door. The procession was to be marshalled 
thence to the town-hall, where a solemn banquet would 
complete the ceremonies of the day. 

Once more, therefore, the train of venerable and 
majestic fathers was seen moving through a broad 
pathway of the people, who drew back reverently, 
on either side, as the Governor and magistrates, the 
old and wise men, the holy ministers, and all that 
were eminent and renowned, advanced into the midst 
of them. When they were fairly in the market-place, 
their presence was greeted by a shout. This — though 
doubtless it might acquire additional force and volume 
from the childlike loyalty which the age awarded to 



THE REVELATION OF THE SCARLET LETTER. 305 

its rulers — was felt to be an irrepressible outburst 
of the enthusiasm kindled in the auditors by that 
high strain of eloquence which was yet reverberating 
in their ears. Each felt the impulse in himself, and, 
in the same breath, caught it from his neighbour. 
Within the church, it had hardly been kept down ; be- 
neath the sky, it pealed upward to the zenith. There 
were human beings enough, and enough of highly 
wrought and symphonious feeling, to produce that 
more impressive sound than the organ-tones of the blast, 
or the thunder, or the roar of the sea ; even that 
mighty swell of many voices, blended into one great 
voice by the universal impulse which makes likewise 
one vast heart out of the many. Never, from the soil 
of New England, had gone up such a shout ! Never, 
on New England soil, had stood the man so honored 
by his mortal brethren as the preacher ? 

How fared it with him then ? Were there not the 
brilliant particles of a halo in the air about his head ? 
So etherealized by spirit as he was, and so apotheo- 
sized by worshipping admirers, did his footsteps in the 
procession really tread upon the dust of earth ? 

As the ranks of military men and civil fathers moved 
onward, all eyes were turned towards the point where 
the minister was seen to approach among them. The 
shout died into a murmur, as one portion of the crowd 
after another obtained a glimpse of him. How feeble 
and pale he looked amid all his triumph ! The energy 
— or say, rather, the inspiration which had held him 
up, until he should have delivered the sacred message 
that brought its own strength along with it from heaven 
20 



306 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

— was withdrawn, now that it had so faithfully per- 
formed its office. The glow, which they had .just before 
beheld burning on his cheek, was extinguished, like a 
flame that sinks down hopelessly among the late-decay- 
ing embers. It seemed hardly the face of a man 
alive, with such a deathlike hue ; it was hardly a man 
with life in him, that tottered on his path so nervelessly, 
yet tottered, and did not fall ! 

One of his clerical brethren, — it was the venerable 
John Wilson, — observing the state in which Mr. Dim- 
mesdale was left by the retiring wave of intellect and 
sensibility, stepped forward hastily to offer his support. 
The minister tremulously, but decidedly, repelled the old 
man's arm. He still walked onward, if that movement 
could be so described, which rather resembled the wa- 
vering effort of an infant, with its mother's arms in view, 
outstretched to tempt him forward. And now, almost 
imperceptible as were the latter steps of his progress, he 
had come opposite the well-remembered and weather- 
darkened scaffold, where, long since, with all that 
dreary lapse of time between, Hester Prynne had en- 
countered the world's ignominious stare. There stood 
Hester, holding little Pearl by the hand ! And there 
was the scarlet letter on her breast ! The minister 
here made a pause ; although the music still played 
the stately and rejoicing march to which the procession 
moved. It summoned him onward, — onward to the 
festival ! — but here he made a pause. 

Bellingham, for the last few moments, had kept an 
anxious eye upon him. He now left his own place in 
the procession, and advanced to give assistance ; judg- 



THE REVELATION OF THE SCARLET LETTER. 307 

ing from Mr. Dimmesdale's aspect that he must other- 
wise inevitably fall. But there was something in the 
latter's expression that warned back the magistrate, 
although a man not readily obeying the vague intima- 
tions that pass from one spirit to another. The crowd, 
meanwhile, looked on with awe and wonder. This 
earthly faintness was, in their view, only another phase 
of the minister's celestial strength ; nor would it have 
seemed a miracle too high to be wrought for one so 
holy, had he ascended before their eyes, waxing dim- 
mer and brighter, and fading at last into the light of 
heaven ! 

He turned towards the scaffold, and stretched forth 
his arms. 

" Hester," said he, " come hither ! Come, my little 
Pearl ! " 

It was a ghastly look with which he regarded them ; 
"but there was something at once tender and strangely 
triumphant in it. The child, with the bird-like motion 
which was one of her characteristics, flew to him, and 
clasped her arms about his knees. Hester Prynne — 
slowly, as if impelled by inevitable fate, and against 
her strongest will — likewise drew near, but paused be- 
fore she reached him. At this instant old Roger Chil- 
lingworth thrust himself through the crowd, — or, per- 
haps, so dark, disturbed, and evil was his look, he rose 
up out of some nether region, — to snatch back his vic- 
tim from what he sought to do ! Be that as it might, 
the old man rushed forward and caught the minister 
by the arm. 

" Madman, hold ! What is your purpose ? " whis- 



308 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

pered he. " Wave back that woman ! Cast off this 
child ! All shall be well ! Do not blacken your fame, 
and perish in dishonor ! I can yet save you ! Would 
you bring infamy on your sacred profession ? " 

" Ha, tempter ! Methinks thou art too late ! " an- 
swered the minister, encountering his eye, fearfully, 
but firmly. " Thy power is not what it was ! With 
God's help, I shall escape thee now ! " 

He again extended his hand to the woman of the 
scarlet letter. 

" Hester Prynne," cried he, with a piercing earnest- 
ness, " in the name of Him, so terrible and so merciful, 
who gives me grace, at this last moment, to do what — 
for my own heavy sin and miserable agony — I with- 
held myself from doing seven years ago, come hither 
now, and twine thy strength about me ! Thy strength, 
Hester ; but let it be guided by the will which God hath 
granted me ! This wretched and wronged old man is 
opposing it with all his might ! — with all his own might 
and the fiend's ! Come, Hester, come ! Support me 
up yonder scaffold ! " 

The crowd was in a tumult. The men of rank and 
dignity, who stood more immediately around the clergy- 
man, were so taken by surprise, and so perplexed as to 
the purport of what they saw, — unable to receive the 
explanation which most readily presented itself, or to 
imagine any other, — that they remained silent and in- 
active spectators of the judgment which Providence 
seemed about to work. They beheld the minister, 
leaning on Hester's shoulder and supported by her arm 
around him, approach the scaffold, and ascend its 



THE REVELATION OF THE SCARLET LETTER. 309 

steps ; while still the little hand of the sin-born child 
was clasped in his. Old Roger Chillingworth followed, 
as one intimately connected with the drama of guilt and 
sorrow in which they had all been actors, and well 
entitled, therefore, to be present at its closing scene. 

" Hadst thou sought the whole earth over, " said he, 
looking darkly at the clergyman, " there was no one 
place so secret, — no high place nor lowly place, where 
thou couldst have escaped me, — save on this very 
scaffold ! " 

" Thanks be to Him who hath led me hither ! " an- 
swered the minister. 

Yet he trerfcbled, and turned to Hester with an ex- 
pression of doubt and anxiety in his eyes, not the less 
evidently betrayed, that there was a feeble smile upon 
his lips. 

" Is not this better," murmured he, " than what we 
dreamed of in the forest ? " 

" I know not ! I know not ! " she hurriedly replied. 
" Better ? Yea ; so we may both die, and little Pearl 
die with us ! " 

" For thee and Pearl, be it as God shall order," said 
the minister ; u and God is merciful ! Let me now do 
the will which he hath made plain before my sight. 
For, Hester, I am a dying man. So let me make haste 
to take my shame upon me." 

Partly supported by Hester Prynne, and holding one 
hand of little Pearl's, the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale 
turned to the dignified and venerable rulers ; to the holy 
ministers, who were his brethren ; to the people, whose 
great heart was thoroughly appalled, yet overflowing 



310 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

with tearful sympathy, as knowing that some deep life- 
matter — which, if full of sin, was full of anguish and 
repentance likewise — was now to be laid open to 
them. The sun, but little past its meridian, shone 
down upon the clergyman, and gave a distinctness to 
his figure, as he stood out from all the earth to put in 
his plea of guilty at the bar of Eternal Justice. 

" People of New England ! " cried he, with a voice 
that rose over them, high, solemn, and majestic, — yet 
had always a tremor through it, and sometimes a shriek, 
struggling up out of a fathomless depth of remorse and 
woe, — " ye, that have loved me ! — ye, that have 
deemed me holy ! — behold me here, the one sinner of 
the world! At last! — at last! — I stand upon the 
spot where, seven years since, I should have stood ; 
here, with this woman, whose arm, more than the little 
strength wherewith I have crept hitherward, sustains 
me, at this dreadful moment, from grovelling down 
upon my face ! Lo, the scarlet letter which Hester 
wears ! Ye have all shuddered at it ! Wherever her 
walk hath been, — wherever, so miserably burdened, 
she may have hoped to find repose, — it hath cast a 
lurid gleam of awe and horrible repugnance round 
about her. But there stood one in the midst of you, 
at whose brand of sin and infamy ye have not shud- 
dered ! " 

It seemed, at this point, as if the minister must leave 
the remainder of his secret undisclosed. But he fought 
back the bodily weakness, — and, still more, the faint- 
ness of heart, — that was striving for the mastery with 
him. He threw off all assistance, and stepped passion- 
ately forward a pace before the woman and the child. 



THE REVELATION OF THE SCARLET LETTER. 311 

"It was on him!" he continued, with a kind of 
fierceness ; so determined was he to speak out the 
whole. " God's eye beheld it ! The angels were 
for ever pointing at it ! The Devil knew it well, and 
fretted it continually with the touch of his burning 
finger ! But he hid it cunningly from men, and walked 
among you with the mien of a spirit, mournful, be- 
cause so pure in a sinful world ! — and sad, because he 
missed his heavenly kindred ! Now, at the death-hour, 
he stands up before you ! He bids you look again at 
Hester's scarlet letter ! He tells you, that, with all its 
mysterious horror, it is but the shadow of what he bears 
on his own breast, and that even this, his own red 
stigma, is no more than the type of what has seared his 
inmost heart ! Stand any here that question God's 
judgment on a sinner ? Behold ! Behold a dreadful 
witness of it ! " 

With a convulsive motion he tore away the minis- 
terial band from before his breast. It was revealed ! 
But it were irreverent to describe that revelation. For 
an instant the gaze of the horror-stricken multitude 
was concentred on the ghastly miracle ; while the min- 
ister stood with a flush of triumph in his face, as one 
who, in the crisis of acutest pain, had won a victory. 
Then, down he sank upon the scaffold ! Hester partly 
raised him, and supported his head against her bosom. 
Old Roger Chillingworth knelt down beside him, with 
a blank, dull countenance, out of which the life seemed 
to have departed. 

" Thou hast escaped me ! " he repeated more than 
once. " Thou hast escaped me ! " 



312 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

" May God forgive thee ! " said the minister. " Thou, 
too, hast deeply sinned ! " 

He withdrew his dying eyes from the old man, and 
fixed them on the woman and the child. 

" My little Pearl," said he feebly, — and there was 
a sweet and gentle smile over his face, as of a spirit 
sinking into deep repose ; nay, now that the burden 
was removed, it seemed almost as if he would be sport- 
ive with the child, — " dear little Pearl, wilt thou kiss 
me now ? Thou wouldst not yonder, in the forest ! 
But now thou wilt ? " 

Pearl kissed his lips. A spell was broken. The 
great scene of grief, in which the wild infant bore a 
part, had developed all her sympathies; and as her 
tears fell upon her father's cheek, they were the pledge 
that she would grow up amid human joy and sorrow, 
nor for ever do battle with the world, but be a woman 
in it. Towards her mother, too, Pearl's errand as a 
messenger of anguish was all fulfilled. 

u Hester," said the clergyman, " farewell ! " 

" Shall we not meet again ? " whispered she, bend- 
ing her face down close to his. " Shall we not spend 
our immortal life together ? Surely, surely, we have 
ransomed one another, with all this woe ! Thou 
lookest far into eternity, with those bright dying eyes ! 
Then tell me what thou seest ? " 

u Hush, Hester, hush ! " said he, with tremulous 
solemnity. " The law we broke ! — the sin here so 
awfully revealed ! — let these alone be in thy thoughts ! 
I fear ! I fear ! It may be, that, when we forgot our 
God, — when we violated our reverence each for the 



THE REVELATION OF THE SCARLET LETTER. 313 

other's soul, — it was thenceforth vain to hope that we 
could meet hereafter, in an everlasting and pure re- 
union. God knows ; and He is merciful ! He hath 
proved his mercy, most of all, in my afflictions. By 
giving me this burning torture to bear upon my breast ! 
By sending yonder dark and terrible old man, to keep 
the torture always at red-heat! By bringing me hither, 
to die this death of triumphant ignominy before the 
people ! Had either of these agonies been wanting, I 
had been lost for ever ! Praised be his name ! His 
will be done ! Farewell ! " 

That final word came forth with the minister's ex- 
piring breath. The multitude, silent till then, broke 
out in a strange, deep voice of awe and wonder, which 
could not as yet find utterance, save in this murmur 
that rolled so heavily after the departed spirit. 



314 THE SCARLET LETTER. 






XXIV. 

CONCLUSION. 

After many days, when time sufficed for the people 
to arrange their thoughts in reference to the foregoing 
scene, there was more than one account of what had 
been witnessed on the scaffold. 

Most of the spectators testified to having seen, on the 
breast of the unhappy minister, a scarlet letter — 
the very semblance of that worn by Hester Prynne — 
imprinted in the flesh. As regarded its origin, there 
were various explanations, all of which must necessa- 
rily have been conjectural. Some affirmed that the 
Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale, on the very day when 
Hester Prynne first wore her ignominious badge, had 
begun a course of penance, — which he afterwards, in 
so many futile methods, followed out, — by inflicting a 
hideous torture on himself. Others contended that the 
stigma had not been produced until a long time subse- 
quent, when old Roger Chillingworth, being a potent 
necromancer, had caused it to appear, through the 
agency of magic and poisonous drugs. Others, again, 
— and those best able to appreciate the minister's 
peculiar sensibility, and the wonderful operation of his 
spirit upon the body, — whispered their belief, that the 
awful symbol was the effect of the ever active tooth of 



CONCLUSION. 315 

remorse, gnawing from the inmost heart outwardly, 
and at last manifesting Heaven's dreadful judgment by 
the visible presence of the letter. The reader may 
choose among these theories. We have thrown all the 
light we could acquire upon the portent, and would 
gladly, now that it has done its office, erase its deep 
print out of our own brain ; where long meditation has 
fixed it in very undesirable distinctness. 

It is singular, nevertheless, that certain persons, who 
were spectators of the whole scene, and professed 
never once to have removed their eyes from the Rev- 
erend Mr. Dimmesdale, denied that there was any mark 
whatever on his breast, more than on a new-born 
infant's. Neither, by their report, had his dying words 
acknowledged, nor even remotely implied, any, the 
slightest connection, on his part, with the guilt for 
which Hester Prynne had so long worn the scarlet 
.letter. According to these highly respectable witnesses, 
the minister, conscious that he was dying, — conscious, 
also, that the reverence of the multitude placed him 
already among saints and angels, — had desired, by 
yielding up his breath in the arms of that fallen woman, 
to express to the world how utterly nugatory is the 
choicest of man's own righteousness. After exhaust- 
ing life in his efforts for mankind's spiritual good, he 
had made the manner of his death a parable, in order 
to impress on his admirers the mighty and mournful 
lesson, that, in the view of Infinite Purity, we are sin- 
ners all alike. It was to teach them, that the holiest 
among us has but attained so far above his fellows as 
to discern more clearly the Mercy which looks down, 



316 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

and repudiate more utterly the phantom of human 
merit, which would look aspiringly upward. Without 
disputing a truth so momentous, we must be allowed to 
consider this version of Mr. Dimmesdale's story as 
only an instance of that stubborn fidelity with which a 
man's friends — and especially a clergyman's — will 
sometimes uphold his character ; when proofs, clear as 
the mid-day sunshine on the scarlet letter, establish 
him a false and sin-stained creature of the dust. 

The authority which we have chiefly followed — a 
manuscript of old date, drawn up from the verbal testi- 
mony of individuals, some of whom had known Hester 
Prynne, while others had heard the tale from contem- 
porary witnesses — fully confirms the view taken in 
the foregoing pages. Among many morals which 
press upon us from the poor minister's miserable ex- 
perience, we put only this into a sentence: — "Be 
true ! Be true ! Be true ! Show freely to the world, 
if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst 
may be inferred ! " 

Nothing was more remarkable than the change which 
took place, almost immediately after Mr. Dimmesdale's 
death, in the appearance and demeanour of the old man 
known as Roger Chillingworth. All his strength and 
energy — all his vital and intellectual force — seemed 
at once to desert him ; insomuch that he positively 
withered up, shrivelled away, and almost vanished from 
mortal sight, like an uprooted weed that lies wilting in 
the sun. This unhappy man had made the very prin- 
ciple of his life to consist in the pursuit and systematic 
exercise of revenge ; and when, by its completest tri- 



CONCLUSION. 317 

umph and consummation, that evil principle was left 
with no further material to support it, — when, in short, 
there was no more devil's work on earth for him to do, 
it only remained for the unhumanized mortal to betake 
himself whither his Master would find him tasks 
enough, and pay him his wages duly. But, to all these 
shadowy beings, so long our near acquaintances, — as 
well Roger Chillingworth as his companions, — we 
would fain be merciful. It is a curious subject of ob- 
servation and inquiry, whether hatred and love be not 
the same thing at bottom. Each, in its utmost develop- 
ment, supposes a high degree of intimacy and heart- 
knowledge ; each renders one individual dependent for 
the food of his affections and spiritual life upon an- 
other ; each leaves the passionate lover, or the no less 
passionate hater, forlorn and desolate by the withdrawal 
of his object. Philosophically considered, therefore, 
the two passions seem essentially the same, except 
that one happens to be seen in a celestial radiance, 
and the other in a dusky and lurid glow. In the spirit- 
ual world, the old physician and the minister — mutual 
victims as they have been — may, unawares, have found 
their earthly stock of hatred and antipathy transmuted 
into golden love. 

Leaving this discussion apart, we have a matter of 
business to communicate to the reader. At old Roger 
Chillingworth's decease (which took place within the 
year), and by his last will and testament, of which 
Governor Bellingham and the Reverend Mr. Wilson 
were executors, he bequeathed a very considerable 



318 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

amount of property, both here and in England, to little 
Pearl, the daughter of Hester Prynne. 

So Pearl — the elf-child, — the demon offspring, 'as 
some people, up to that epoch, persisted in considering 
her — became the richest heiress of her day, in the New 
World. Not improbably, this circumstance wrought 
a very material change in the public estimation ; and, 
had the mother and child remained here, little Pearl, at 
a marriageable period of life, might have mingled her 
wild blood with the lineage of the devoutest Puritan 
among them all. But, in no long time after the physi- 
cian's death, the wearer of the scarlet letter disap- 
peared, and Pearl along with her. For many years, 
though a vague report would now and then find its way 
across the sea, — like a shapeless piece of driftwood tost 
ashore, with the initials of a name upon it, — yet no 
tidings of them unquestionably authentic were re- 
ceived. The story of the scarlet letter grew into a 
legend. Its spell, however, was still potent, and kept 
the scaffold awful where the poor minister had died, 
and likewise the cottage by the sea-shore, where Hester 
Prynne had dwelt. Near this latter spot, one after- 
noon, some children were at play, when they beheld a 
tall woman, in a gray robe, approach the cottage-door. 
In all those years it had never once been opened ; but 
either she unlocked it, or the decaying wood and iron 
yielded to her hand, or she glided shadow-like through 
these impediments, — and, at all events, went in. 

On the threshold she paused, — turned partly round, 
— for, perchance, the idea of entering, all alone, and 



CONCLUSION. 319 

all so changed, the home of so intense a former life, 
was more dreary and desolate than even she could 
bear. But her hesitation was only for an instant, 
though long enough to display a scarlet letter on her 
breast. 

And Hester Prynne had returned, and taken up her 
long-forsaken shame. But where was little Pearl ? If 
still alive, she must now have been in the flush and 
bloom of early womanhood. None knew — nor ever 
learned, with the fulness of perfect certainty — whether 
the elf-child had gone thus untimely to a maiden grave ; 
or whether her wild, rich nature had been softened and 
subdued, and made capable of a woman's gentle hap- 
piness. But, through the remainder of Hester's life, 
there were indications that the recluse of the scarlet 
letter was the object of love and interest with some in- 
habitant of another land. Letters came, with armorial 
seals upon them, though of bearings unknown to Eng- 
lish heraldry. In the cottage there were articles of 
comfort and luxury, such as Hester never cared to use, 
but which only wealth could have purchased, and affec- 
tion have imagined for her. There were trifles, too, 
little ornaments, beautiful tokens of a continual re- 
membrance, that must have been wrought by delicate 
fingers, at the impulse of a fond heart. And, once, 
Hester was seen embroidering a baby-garment, with 
such a lavish richness of golden fancy as would have 
raised a public tumult, had any infant, thus apparelled, 
been shown to our sobre-hued community. 

In fine, the gossips of that day believed, — and Mr. 



320 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

Surveyor Pue, who made investigations a century later, 
believed, — and one of his recent successors in office, 
moreover, faithfully believes, — that Pearl was not only 
alive, but married, and happy, and mindful of her 
mother ; and that she would most joyfully have enter- 
tained that sad and lonely mother at her fireside. 

But there was a more real life for Hester Prynne, 
here, in New England, than in that unknown region 
where Pearl had found a home. Here had been her 
sin ; here, her sorrow ; and here was yet to be her pen- 
itence. She had returned, therefore, and resumed, — 
of her own free will, for not the sternest magistrate of 
that iron period would have imposed it, — resumed the 
symbol of which we have related so dark a tale. 
Never afterwards did it quit her bosom. But, in the 
lapse of the toilsome, thoughtful, and self-devoted 
years that made up Hester's life, the scarlet letter 
ceased to be a stigma which attracted the world's scorn 
and bitterness, and became a type of something to be 
sorrowed over, and looked upon with awe, yet with 
reverence too. And, as Hester Prynne had no selfish 
ends, nor lived in any measure for her own profit 
and enjoyment, people brought all their sorrows and 
perplexities, and besought her counsel, as one who 
had herself gone through a mighty trouble. Women, 
more especially, — in the continually recurring trials of 
wounded, wasted, wronged, misplaced, or erring and 
sinful passion, — or with the dreary burden of a heart 
unyielded, because unvalued and unsought, — came to 
Hester's cottage, demanding why they were so wretch- 



CONCLUSION. 321 

ed, and what the remedy ! Hester comforted and 
counselled them, as best she might. She assured them, 
too, of her firm belief, that, at some brighter period, 
when the world should have grown ripe for it, in Heav- 
en's own time, a new truth would be revealed, in order 
to establish the whole relation between man and woman 
on a surer ground of mutual happiness. Earlier in 
life, Hester had vainly imagined that she herself might 
be the destined prophetess, but had long since recog- 
nized the impossibility that any mission of divine and 
mysterious truth should be confided to a woman stained 
with sin, bowed down with shame, or even burdened 
with a life-long sorrow. The angel and apostle of 
the coming revelation must be a woman, indeed, but 
lofty, pure, and beautiful ; and wise, moreover, not 
through dusky grief, but the ethereal medium of joy; 
and showing how sacred love should make us happy, 
by the truest test of a life successful to such an end ! 

So said Hester Prynne, and glanced her sad eyes 
downward at the scarlet letter. And, after many, 
many years, a new grave was delved, near an old and 
sunken one, in that burial-ground beside which King's 
Chapel has since been built. It was near that old and 
sunken grave, yet with a space between, as if the dust 
of the two sleepers had no right to mingle. Yet 
one tombstone served for both. All around, there 
were monuments carved with armorial bearings ; and 
on this simple slab of slate — as the curious inves- 
tigator may still discern, and perplex himself with 
the purport — there appeared the semblance of an en- 
21 



322 THE SCARLET LETTER. 

graved escutcheon. It bore a device, a herald's word- 
ing of which might serve for a motto and brief descrip- 
tion of our now concluded legend ; so sombre is it, 
and relieved only by one ever-glowing point of light 
gloomier than the shadow : — 

" On a field, sable, the letter A, gules." 



THE END.